Southwick residents Mark and Violet Hall appeared before the Planning Board Tuesday with around eight family members and Lakisha Papoutsakis, a paralegal who conducted most of the presentation.
A business plan submitted by the group, also known as “Ora Care,” indicates they will build a 3,000-square-foot grow room in the lower level of the Eastworks Mill at 116 Pleasant St., and pay a rental fee of $6,000 per month. The group estimates $100,000 in startup costs, and say they will be self-financed.
Mark Hall showed architectural and engineering drawings, described a ventilation and odor control system, and said the city’s fire department had signed off on the plans.
Eastworks owner Will Bundy told the board that he is confident the growers and processors will be good neighbors in the mill district, “because if it’s their problem, it’s my problem.”
In addition to hemp cultivation, the Easthampton site will process “CBD products, oils, tincture plants” and other items, according to the application. The family is already growing hemp on farmland they own in Westfield, said Violet Hall.
Under the state’s 2016 law that legalized marijuana, farmers can grow industrial hemp — that is, marijuana with extremely low levels of psychoactive THC — with a license from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.
On Tuesday, the applicants displayed an “industrial hemp license” for Misty Valley Farm at 55 Tannery Road in Southwick, and said it was the first such license granted by the state.
Planning Board chairman James Zarvis asked Hall if she has a state license to grow hemp specifically in Easthampton. Hall replied that she does. Zarvis asked if she could provide documentation.
“I do believe I can get that to you,” said Hall.
Hall explained to Zarvis that state, local and federal officials had toured the prospective Easthampton location and conducted inspections.
“The DEA came out,” said Hall. “The CIA, the FBI, the local authorities, the health department, the zoning department, the legal departments. Every department that you can imagine witnessed, walked through, and saw it.”
Hall said the agencies “all made sure it was up to code and adequate for us to process it” and “did a walk-through so they could see what was going to happen.”
Hall said the farm’s hemp transport vans are “GPS-tracked by the DEA,” and that the Southwick farm has been “inspected every six weeks for the past seven years” in relation to hemp.
Police Chief Robert Alberti, reached by phone Wednesday, said he had met with the Ora Care proponents once, along with City Planner Jeffrey Bagg, but had not toured their facility.
Alberti said he doubts that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, or Federal Bureau of Investigation had toured the lower level of Eastworks.
“If those agencies were in town, I would have known about it,” said Alberti, a former DEA Task Force member who still maintains a top-secret clearance with the FBI. “Besides, inspecting a local hemp business would be outside of their purview.”
The family operates two “Ora Care” retail storefronts — one in Springfield and one in at Eastworks. The stores sell CBD oil, edibles, coffee, and vape pens, according to their advertising.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, a derivative of the cannabis plant believed to deliver health benefits.
At its Springfield store, Ora Care apparently also offers other activities.
The store openly advertises its ganja-infused yoga and “puff and paint” classes, sells glass smoking pipes and offers “Organic Cannabis Cooking Classes for Certified Medical Marijuana Patients of Massachusetts.”
Violet Hall told The Republican that she moved to the U.S. from Scotland in 1983, and that hemp agriculture offers a great opportunity for woman immigrants.
Asked about a recent Facebook post that said Ora Care would soon apply for a recreational marijuana license, Hall said the entity would “focus on CBD for now.”
Hall said the family’s Southwick operation is “closed down” and that they are just growing hemp in Westfield now.
The Republican has filed a public records request with the state agriculture department for all license application materials submitted by Misty Valley Farm or Ora Care relative to the state’s industrial hemp program.