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Cannabis controversy sprouts in flourishing $38 million industry

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RICHMOND, R.I. (WPRI) — Medical marijuana sales soared by about 35 percent in Rhode Island last year, with a projection to grow another 36 percent by the end of this year, but the industrial-sized grows supplying the industry are not welcome everywhere.

In Richmond, state-approved applicant Cann Cure Cultivation could add to 2018’s $38 million sales total, but the town is hearing “not here” from hundreds of residents.

Brian and Heidi Edwards live next door to the five-acre site proposed for an 11,400 square-foot building that would include up to 5,000 square feet of growing area. 

“I look out my window and go, ‘they’re going to put an almost 12,000 square-foot building right there,” Brian said. “I’ve got horses and chickens. It doesn’t fit into the neighborhood at all, in many ways.”

Cann Cure’s application to grow medical marijuana in nearby Hopkinton was rejected by that town’s zoning board, but last year the LLC was granted a zoning certificate in Richmond, stating horticulture is a permitted use.

The company’s attorney, Benjamin Rackliffe, said his client understands the local pushback, and is determined to fit into the community. 

“The design that we proposed is intended to conform with the rural character of the community,” Rackliffe said. “The company intends to and will be a good neighbor.”

More than 350 residents have signed a petition trying to stop the project over several issues, including traffic to and from the operation, and impact on their well water. 

Rackcliffe said the high-tech facility will be environmentally friendly, with minimal impact on the watershed, traffic or community. 

“Again, most of those impacts that are perceived are just based on misconceptions,” Rackliffe said.

Heidi Edwards is skeptical and concerned that it will be too late to repair certain types of impacts once the marijuana is growing in an actual building. 

“It could be orchids. It could be carrots,” she said. “But a building that size does not fit into a residential neighborhood. What happens if our wells run dry? What happens when our property values go down?”

Cann Cure is one of 74 medical marijuana cultivator applicants approved by the Department of Business Regulation, of which 41 have received their licenses and 25 are currently growing pot.

Warwick has welcomed the industry, with 28 of the 74 approved applicants – nearly 38 percent of the total – located in that city.

By contrast, seven of the applicants are planning on growing in Providence, and 18 municipalities have no applicants for proposed grows.

Just under 16,000 pounds of cannabis was sold last year, bringing in $38,361,750 in sales and a little more than $4.1 million in tax and compassion center surcharge revenue to the state.

Cann Cure was asked to make changes to its building at a recent planning board meeting.

The Edwards said opponents plan to air their opposition the next time the proposal goes before the planning board. 

Rackliffe said while his client will work with the community, at this point, the only part of the process that remains involves design issues with the building. 

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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