The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) released an update to its Agricultural Preservation Restriction and Farm Viability Enhancement programs on April 28, making way for more than 70,000 acres to be used to grow cannabis and hemp, according to the Worcester Business Journal.
“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.
Hemp and cannabis activities still have to be licensed by MDAR and the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, and they also must be approved by local zoning authorities.
The initial program was established back in 1977 and offers to pay farmers and owners of land the difference between fair market value and the agricultural value of their land. In exchange, the program would enact permanent deed restrictions to preserve farmland for agricultural use in the future, according to the department website.
With this, the program provides assistance to established farmers through grant funding, in exchange, having farmers sign an agricultural agreement on the property to keep it in agricultural use for a five-, 10-, or 15-year term, according to the state website.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has been working since 2020 on ways to reform the APR program to reflect the current times and legal status of cannabis in the state.
The program has protected 73,000 acres and 930 properties, but the landowners who had signed up for the program previously were unable to farm legalized cannabis and hemp, even following the vote to legalize cannabis in 2016.
Hemp farmers have been grappling with restrictions since 2019, when MDAR outlawed the sale of most products containing hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), impacting the most lucrative potential for farmers with that focus. MDAR is also working with the Cannabis Control Commission to allow hemp products in dispensaries.