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Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources announced Friday it will allow the farming of marijuana and hemp on more than 73,000 acres of protected farmland.
MDAR, which oversees agricultural business and hemp in Massachusetts, has been working since 2020 on ways to reform what is known as the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program, a voluntary and first-in-the-nation program enacted by the state in 1979 that protects farmland for future agricultural use.
While the program has protected 73,000 acres and 930 properties, the landowners who had signed up for the program were unable to farm legalized cannabis and hemp, even after voters legalized marijuana in 2016.
The state held listening sessions last year to solicit input, and Friday's announcement allows cultivation of hemp on all land, and cultivation of marijuana on land that is not federally funded or subject to USDA enforcement. Hemp and marijuana activities still have to be licensed by MDAR and the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, respectively, as well as approved by local zoning authorities.
“As a result of that public feedback and to provide APR farmers new economic opportunities, MDAR has reviewed its legal authority and decided to exercise its discretion to allow the growing of hemp and marijuana on APR land in accordance with state and federal law,” said Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for MDAR.
While the new guidance issued last week expands the possibility of farming for both hemp and cannabis, hurdles remain to make outdoor cultivation of cannabis and farming of hemp worthwhile. Recommended
For cannabis, strict pesticide regulations have made it difficult for outdoor grows to meet compliance.
For hemp, farmers have been hampered since 2019, when MDAR outlawed the sale of most products containing hemp-derived cannabidiol, also known as CBD, sidelining the most profitable potential for its crop. MDAR has been working with the CCC to allow hemp products in cannabis dispensaries.