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Grow Your Greatest: Tips & Tricks for Massachusetts Cannabis Growers

Once you’ve decided to start growing cannabis at home, you can easily fall into an overwhelming green hole of information: What strains are easiest to grow? What’s the optimum cycle for indoor lights? Should you grow in soil or coco coir? Use sprays or opt for integrated pest management? It’s enough to drive anyone mad—or at least to the nearest dispensary.

Thankfully, there are lots of excellent resources online—including Leafly’s own dedicated section on growing—and many of them provide helpful information for the general grower. But what about growing locally, right here in Massachusetts?

“You can’t just grow anything, especially with the way the climate is out here.”

I wanted to know whether there were specific tips and tricks for growing here in the Bay State. So I headed to the INSA cultivation facility in Easthampton to learn more about what it takes to grow cannabis successfully in New England.

INSA’s cultivation center is state of the art and truly makes a home grower salivate. From its water filtration system to the various grow rooms where plants can be seen in different stages of their lifecycle, it was impressive to see cannabis grown on a large scale.

Thankfully, you don’t need a cutting-edge grow center to get a good harvest at home. INSA head grower Matt Livermore and assistant head grower Frank Golfieri shared some Massachusetts-specific tips they’ve cultivated over the years.

Pick the Right Plants

If you’re planning to grow outdoors in Massachusetts—the season here lasts roughly May through November, by the way—make sure you choose the right strains. “You have to find specific ones for this region,” said Golfieri. “You can’t just grow anything, especially with the way the climate is out here. You have to find strands that are more hearty, to handle these conditions.” Kush strains are good options for beginners to consider.

Both Livermore and Golfieri recommend starting from seed if possible to avoid any surprise issues that may be brought into your grow space. When starting with clippings or clones, you can’t be positive that they won’t introduce bacteria, pests, or other pathogens into your garden. Golfieri advised, if you have the space, that you keep new plants in quarantine for a little while to avoid letting introduced pathogens spread to existing plants.

Know Your Seasons

If you’re taking advantage of the outdoor grow period, it’s important to be aware that it stretches across three different seasons—spring, summer, and fall—each with its own specific weather. While fall in other regions may be more temperate, Massachusetts tends to have more rain. Our long, relatively autom thus creates perfect conditions for things like mold to develop.

And while Massachusetts isn’t not known for long periods of scorching heat in the summer, there are frequently spells of little to no rain that can cause issues if you’re unable to water your plants regularly.

Start Indoors

There’s not much that compares to the sight of a majestic, outdoor cannabis plant. When it comes down to it both INSA growers stressed that indoor cultivation is easiest for new growers in Massachusetts. “You can control the environment better,” explained Golfieri. Fluctuating temperatures, long periods of cold or rain, and even unanticipated early freezes won’t matter at all to indoor plants (and more importantly, won’t impact your yield). It’s also far easier to control light conditions indoors.

All that comes with a downside, of course: added cost.

Cleanliness Is Key

To keep plants healthy, it’s crucial to limit their exposure to contaminants. Change into clean clothes before entering your grow room, and keep a separate pair of shoes to avoid tracking in contaminants from outside. Beyond those general tips, though, there are best practices specific to the state.

Water is an often overlooked source of contamination. If you’re not using filtered or distilled water, which both INSA growers recommend, be sure to get a complete readout of your town or city’s water supply. This can usually be done by contacting your local water and sewer agency. While you can test water from the faucet yourself for things like pH levels, a more comprehensive assessment will indicate things like lead and heavy metals, which cannabis plants absorb readily. Heavy metals are of particular concern in Massachusetts, home to a lot of former mill towns.

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Get Tested

When you’re dealing with new plants, you want to start with the best. So you might want to start by having the plant, flower, and/or soil tested by one of the labs in the state.

Neither Livermore nor Golfieri were keen on the tests you can order online. “If you want to get it done, spend the money and go take the time to get your terpenes, cannabinoid profile figured out,” says Livermore. “You can find out if there are any microtoxins in the soil, or other things that are a problem. If you’re really that serious about growing, you take it to a reputable lab, for sure!”

Four labs are currently open for testing cannabis in Massachusetts, all in the eastern part of the state. Costs start around $50, and you can choose what type of analysis you’d like to run, from cannabinoid and terpene profiles to various safety tests that check for common concerns such as mold, E. coli, yeast, fungus, and more.

Section 13

(a) Restrictions on personal cultivation. No person shall cultivate or process marijuana plants pursuant to section 8 of this chapter if the plants are visible from a public place without the use of binoculars, aircraft or other optical aids or cultivate or process marijuana plants outside of an area that is equipped with a lock or other security device. A person who violates this subsection shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $300 and forfeiture of the marijuana, but shall not be subject to any other form of criminal or civil punishment or disqualification solely for this conduct.

(b) Restrictions on personal possession. No person shall possess more than 1 ounce of marijuana or marijuana products within the person’s place of residence pursuant to section 8 of this chapter unless the marijuana and marijuana products are secured by a lock. A person who violates this subsection shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $100 and forfeiture of the marijuana.

(c) Restrictions on public consumption of marijuana. No person shall consume marijuana in a public place or smoke marijuana where smoking tobacco is prohibited. A person who violates this subsection shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $100. This subsection shall not apply to a person who consumes marijuana or marijuana products in a designated area of a marijuana establishment located in a city or town that has voted to allow consumption on the premises where sold and shall not be construed to limit the medical use of marijuana.

(d) Possession of marijuana in motor vehicles. No person shall, upon any way or in any place to which the public has a right of access, or upon any way or in any place to which members of the public have access as invitees or licensees, possess an open container of marijuana or marijuana products in the passenger area of any motor vehicle. A person who violates this subjection shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $500. For purposes of this section, ”open container” shall mean that the package containing marijuana or marijuana products has its seal broken or from which the contents have been partially removed or consumed and ”passenger area” shall mean the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or passenger while in a seated position; provided however that the passenger area shall not include a motor vehicle’s trunk, locked glove compartment or the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer, or if a motor vehicle is not equipped with a trunk, the area behind the last upright seat or an area not normally occupied by the driver or passenger.

(e) Possession or cultivation of excess marijuana. Notwithstanding chapter 94C of the General Laws and until the import or export of marijuana to or from the commonwealth is not prohibited by federal law, a person who is at least 21 years of age and who cultivates more than 6 but not more than 12 marijuana plants or who possesses an amount of marijuana outside of his or her place of residence having a weight of more than 1 ounce but not more than 2 ounces shall be subject only to a civil penalty of not more than $100 and forfeiture of the marijuana not allowed by section 8 of this chapter, but shall not be subject to any other form of criminal or civil punishment or disqualification solely for this conduct.

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(f) Procurement of marijuana by a person under 21 years of age. A person under 21 years of age, except a qualifying patient holding a valid registration card for the medical use of marijuana, who purchases or attempts to purchase marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories, or makes arrangements with any person to purchase or in any way procure marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories, or who willfully misrepresents such person’s age, or in any way alters, defaces or otherwise falsifies identification offered as proof of age, with the intent of purchasing marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories, shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $100 and shall complete a drug awareness program established pursuant to section 32M of chapter 94C of the General Laws. The parents or legal guardian of any offender under the age of 18 shall be notified in accordance with section 32N of chapter 94C of the General Laws and the failure within 1 year of the offense of such an offender to complete a drug awareness program may be a basis for delinquency proceedings for persons under the age of 17 at the time of the person’s offense.

(g) Enforcement. Civil penalties imposed pursuant to this section shall be enforced by utilizing the non-criminal disposition procedures provided in section 32N of chapter 94C of the General Laws.

(h) Notwithstanding chapter 94C, a person less than 21 years of age, except a qualifying patient holding a valid registration card for the medical use of marijuana, who cultivates not more than 12 marijuana plants shall be punished by a civil penalty of not more than $100 and shall complete a drug awareness program established pursuant to section 32M of chapter 94C. If that person is less than 18 years of age, the parent or legal guardian of that person shall be notified in accordance with section 32N of said chapter 94C. If a person is less than 17 years of age at the time of the offense and fails to complete a drug awareness program not later than 1 year after the offense, that person may be subject to delinquency proceedings.

(i) Whoever furnishes marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories to a person less than 21 years of age, either for the person’s own use or for the use of the person’s parent or another person shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or both such fine and imprisonment.

For the purposes of this subsection, ”furnish” shall mean to knowingly or intentionally supply, give or provide to or allow a person less than 21 years of age, except for the children and grandchildren of the person being charged, to possess marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories on premises or property owned or controlled by the person charged.

[Third paragraph of subsection (i) effective until fulfillment of the conditions of 2017, 55, Sec. 82. For text effective upon fulfillment of the conditions of 2017, 55, Sec. 82, see below.]

This subsection shall not apply to the sale, delivery or furnishing of medical marijuana pursuant to chapter 369 of the acts of 2012.

[Third paragraph of subsection (i) as amended by 2017, 55, Sec. 39 effective upon fulfillment of the conditions of 2017, 55, Sec. 82. For text effective until fulfillment of the conditions of 2017, 55, Sec. 82, see above.]

This subsection shall not apply to the sale, delivery or furnishing of medical marijuana pursuant to chapter 94I.

Planting seeds of legal marijuana

Sorry, but ever since Massachusetts opened their retail cannabis establishments, I’ve been smelling dope.

It’s everywhere, it seems. It’s wafting along the sidewalk, and there is no one around. Driving, I smell wisps of it from the State Capitol, down Interstate-91, onto the Wilbur Cross Parkway, then all the way home.

It’s not me, people. I’ve been there and done that, a long time ago. It’s you, enjoying that freedom to leave a smoky trail, for all to ponder the aroma. If it is the smell of freedom, time will shortly tell.

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Yes, the heat is on, Connecticut. That $150-million a year in tax revenue is dangling out there, so tantalizing. For the state’s cannabis-community consumers, Northampton and Great Barrington are short jaunts for legal weed. Kinda. You still have to avoid the cops bringing it back over the border. But how stoned can you get before you’re caught?

If there were any specifics in his election campaign, Gov. Ned Lamont wanted full legalization of marijuana, so-called recreational cannabis, Connecticut-grown, sold in licensed retail establishments. Give the people what they want. Joe Accettullo, 37, from Hamden, agrees.

He’s been living the underground life, helping people score despite the prohibitions that date back to the late-1930s, when the American legal apparatus, starved from persecuting people five years or more after Prohibition, turned their attentions to the evil weed which, given water and very little attention, can grow and blossom anywhere. At least the valued female plants can. In the matriarchy of natural selection, males get in the way of robust, unpollenated flowers that signify the glory — and potency — of the harvest. Any right-thinking grower cuts them down.

A few decades later and President Richard Nixon conned the Silent Majority into believing the urban unrest and anti-war effort were the result of dope-smoking blacks and hippies, instead of prevailing “white supremacy” and barbaric American imperialism.

Gather around youngsters and let’s talk about the days before designer cannabis, when the Mexican and even domestic weed was laden with seeds that would turn joints into exploding cigars, while the traces of the herbicide paraquat likely seared a generation of lungs.

No wonder the people I know who’ve made the missions of mercy to Northampton, turning the I-91 corridor into the Highway of Hemp, are willing to pay more for cannabis that has been lab inspected and given its THC profile pedigree, than whatever their local dealers can scare up.

Accettullo was in the Capitol the other day, surfing the edge of a pro-marijuana news conference, symbolically on the outside looking in, although he knows more about the growing and marketing than most people. If the corporate cannabis types have their way — and if weed is fully legalized this year, they are likely to — then the underground, so-called black marketeers who have loyally served their customers at great risk to their personal freedom, are going to get pushed aside. No way the little guy, no matter how successful, has a few million bucks to put up for a mass-grow facility.

The Office of State Ethics reports 11 registered marijuana-related lobbyists, up from seven last year. Accettullo, a member of the New England Craft Cannabis Alliance is banking on what he calls a “connoisseur-grade product” that will somehow emerge in a niche market of its own. But he’s worried about getting forgotten.

“I feel like our voices are lost in the legalization debate,” he said, noting that big companies want to piggyback on the existing medical marijuana industry. “I don’t want to see a homogenized version of our product in Connecticut. Why end Prohibition and then have Budweiser come in?”

I couldn’t answer his questions. What I do know is that a bill as complicated as retail cannabis, with accompanying erasure of criminal records for those convicted of possession, is easier to kill then pass. If Lamont can’t get the legislation through this year, it can’t pass next year, in a General Assembly election season. Then, the state might as well run bus lines for buyers heading to Massachusetts and New York, like stoned ski clubs, bringing their tax revenue over the border.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a longtime marijuana opponent, sees what’s going on.

“I think the details aren’t forthcoming because part of the problem is that there will clearly be a struggle within this building on marijuana,” Candelora said. “You have a group that fundamentally believes in homegrown and then you have a whole bunch of lobbyists here wanting to protect that industry and make sure that a certain segment of the population makes money off it.”