WESTPORT — Per Town Meeting vote last May, recreational marijuana will not be sold within town borders, but that does not mean it can never be grown in Westport, at least that’s how farmer Averyl Andrade sees it.
Andrade made a pitch last week to selectmen and Planning Board members to consider putting before voters a co-op system in which established farm operations can obtain a license to grow marijuana.
Andrade said that though farmers would be growing it, they would sell it to sources outside of the community. Meanwhile, the struggling farm community can turn to another product for their livelihood and the town could also benefit financially, she said.
“The town can potentially earn $300,000 for each co-op they allow to cultivate a 20,000 square foot canopy,” Andrade wrote in a prepared release. “If they were to allow four farms, the town can earn upwards of $1.2 million for each year.
Andrade also offered other information that could provide safeguards to the town if it were to move forward — the town could allow co-ops only to established farm operations; institute requirements that a specific percentage of employees in the operation be town residents; and allow a maximum canopy of 20,000 square feet.
Andrade mentioned that every license is subject to site plan approval through the Planning Board and would require a special permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals, while noting communities are creating bylaws to allow cannabis agriculture and she hopes that Westport would do the same.
Andrade said she hopes the selectmen would partner with her; if not, she could easily put a petition forward on a Town Meeting warrant.
Andrade told selectmen that many struggling farmers in town are having solar arrays built on their property to generate revenue. She mentioned that marijuana would be more lucrative and conditions could be set in which it is not visible to the public.
Selectmen and Planning Board member have not weighed in, taking the information under advisement.
More meetings and discussions are set to take place before the next Town Meeting, which will either be held at the end of the year or next May.
Selectman Brian Valcourt, a vocal advocate of legalizing marijuana, gave his take on Monday.
“It’s a huge revenue stream that we are missing out on,” Valcourt said. “All medications and drugs cause problems when they are used. This is one of the lowest occasions of abuse.”
Valcourt criticized how the selectmen at consecutive meetings approved liquor licenses. He asserted that alcohol appears to be connected with more issues and abuse cases.
Other residents weighed in.
“It is not evil and it is not the gateway to drugs such as opioids and cocaine,” resident Louise Rodrigues told selectmen. “It is actually a gateway to recovery. We need to support these farmers and we need to educate people on cannabis.”
Resident and town official Constance Gee, a medical marijuana user, lauded how under such a bylaw, cannabis would be grown outside. A longtime marijuana advocate, Gee mentioned that this crop was meant to be grown outside, and not indoors under lamps.