A one-million-square-foot factory in North Andover, Massachusetts, formerly occupied by Lucent Technologies, is being considered as the site for “the world’s largest marijuana grow and research facility,” according to a story in The Boston Globe.
Boston-based oncologist and businessman Jeff Goldstein presented his plans for the massive complex during an open house at the facility. The plan calls for the developers, Massachusetts Innovation Works, to pay the city a total of $100 million over the next 20 years for use of the plant. That amount is more than 10 times the amount the property currently generates in taxes.
Goldstein has recruited lawyers, marketing agents, experienced cannabis growers, technology executives and other professionals to help develop the plan, according to The Globe and Eagle-Tribune.
As usual in these types of proposals, the city’s residents are divided over the proposal. Some believe the facility would put North Andover at the forefront of cannabis science. Others are concerned that the operation would paint the town as a mecca for pot culture (even though the proposal does not include any retail sales facilities), and some are concerned that it might make the city a tempting target for federal law enforcement.
The city Planning Board has recommended the town reject the idea of making changes to the zoning bylaws which would be needed to allow the location to produce, process and test marijuana, effectively killing the proposal.
Planning Board member Peter Boynton said a preliminary meeting last spring, "I feel like we're being asked to give approval for something we don't understand what the impacts are.”
John Simons, Chairman of the Planning Board said, “For something this large, we have done very little due diligence related to this. Anytime in the past when the Planning Board has taken on significant issues like this ... we spent at least a year going over the planning process, we've formed a group and solicited a lot of views, done a lot of research and due diligence at the state and local level. This came at the end of the Town Meeting process, it's shorter than we normally get for most zoning articles, and yet it's far and away the most significant one." Goldstein remains optimistic despite the Planning Board’s recommendations.
Goldstein claims the mission of the massive facility would be to produce high-quality products, and use some of the proceeds to build a business incubator and international research and development center.
Goldstein served 21 years as the medical director of Lowell General's radiation oncology department before taking a job at Sheba Medical Center in Israel as the residency director for radiation oncology in 2012. He became interested in medical marijuana after a trip to Israel. "Until I left for Israel in 2013, I sat around all day writing (patients) narcotics (prescriptions). Patients were preferring and using medical cannabis."
The factory, known as Osgood Landing, was originally built in the 1950s and employed more than 12,000 workers in the production of telecom equipment. Lucent abandoned the facility in 2007. The new facility could eventually employ up to 1,500 skilled workers.
The sprawling facility is thought to be ideal for growing marijuana with huge interior spaces, a 50-megawatt substation to power grow lights, and it’s own wells for watering. Goldstein says security will not be an issue. In an interview on WickedLocal.com, he stated “It’s a very secure facility. And it was built as a single-user facility. It has the infrastructure needed – the power, the water, the air-conditioning and heating – everything needed for indoor cannabis cultivation, without having an adverse impact on the surrounding community. Everything is there. It’s all self-contained.”
In the interview, Goldstein pointed out to residents of Andover that another town in Massachusetts, Freetown, also has plans to host a million-square-foot cultivation facility but the plan calls for growing outdoors in greenhouses.
You’re going to be able to drive by and see all the plants. What is unique about our facility is not the size. A million square feet is the size of the building. We’re filling a building. If I make it 500,000 square feet, then half the building’s empty. Might as well use what you’ve got. What makes our site unique, and what makes our project unique, is not the size, because commercial horticulture, whatever the product or plant, needs scale. When’s the last time you saw a corn farm that was 20,000 feet or 30,000 feet? Many places that are doing cultivation only on a small scale are going out of business in Colorado.
What makes our site unique is the innovation center. We’re the first group to be able to say that because of our assets, because of our resources, because of our knowledge-based economy, because of the infrastructure, because this was once the home of Bell Labs, even though we have 1.1 million feet, we have 400,000 feet in the front of the building of office and R&D space. And this is where we’re going to be doing horticultural research, impairment research, medical research, creating entrepreneurship opportunities, and our site is unique because we’re doing much more than cultivation. We’re using this cultivation center and the proceeds from this to create and build and R&D and entrepreneurship infrastructure that will be able to study and use the chemicals in this plant to create higher and better value. I think we have something to be proud of. We’re going to have scientists coming here from all over the world. I met with a group today from Israel that was from Teva Pharmaceuticals, that want to come here. We have PhD scientists who want to move to North Andover.
But it won’t be cheap to retrofit the factory for growing. Development of the indoor cultivation facilities alone is projected to cost a staggering $100 million.
In July of 2018, Massachusetts will officially launch its recreational program, which is projected to reach $1 billion a year in sales by 2020.