Anderson Porter Design is a part of the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition. The SCC is a coalition of cannabis industry leaders working to improve sustainability in cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution throughout the market. Our staff member Quayny Porter Brown contributed insight on sustainability in the built environment. See the article below, and the original article publication can be found here.

A Sustainable Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

A Brief Historic Intro

Exotic goods from China and the West Indies. Enormous cargos of whale oil and cod. Bountiful harvests of vegetables, fruits, and livestock. Massachusetts’ preindustrial economy flourished with maritime trade, fishing, and agriculture. Beginning in the 19th century, heavy manufacturing bolstered Massachusetts’ wealth. Beverly became home to United Shoe Machinery Corporation – one of the largest factories in the world at the time. Springfield Armory aided the Revolutionary cause, and it continued to produce arms for an expanding empire. Waltham, Salem, and Boston synchronized our world with mass-produced watches. Rocking chairs, cutlery, shovels, paper, silverware, razor blades… Massachusetts helped propel global capitalism, and the Commonwealth prospered.

Other states boomed alongside Massachusetts. But over the course of world wars and economic depressions, many factories declined – especially textile and shoe manufacturers. Market saturation, overproduction, inhumanely cheap labor, and price-drops shuttered businesses. Across the US, other industries like steelmaking, automobile production, and coal mining fell on hard times.  The 20th century saw deindustrialization, economic decline, population loss, and urban decay spread throughout Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and further. The ‘Rust Belt’ was a term coined to describe the corrosion of a large swath of New England, Midatlantic, and Midwestern industries.

Today, Massachusetts’ economy has weathered past tumults; it is a leader in education, health services, tourism, and technological research and development. While much of the ‘rust’ has been sanded away, the Commonwealth remains littered with defunct factory buildings, decrepit worker housing, and contaminated earth.

Cue Cannabis 

Massachusetts legalized the medical use of cannabis ten years ago; recreational cannabis followed two years afterwards, and 2018 saw the first adult-use cannabis sales. There appears to be great potential for this new industry to revitalize areas of the state where industries have collapsed. Could the burgeoning cannabis market be a new source of wealth that benefits the common good?

The Cannabis Control Commission has authorized 374 cannabis establishments to commence operations. Of these, 80 are cannabis cultivation facilities (the rest consist of delivery couriers, testing laboratories, transporters, product manufacturers, and retailers). These cultivation facilities are dispersed across 54 towns and cities. There are 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts – so cannabis cultivation facilities exist in 15% of the Commonwealth. Facilities are sprouting in existing industrial zones and infusing communities with a fresh boost of tax revenues, jobs, and commerce.

From 2019 to 2021, Massachusetts retailers surpassed $2 billion in gross sales –  double the combined Massachusetts GDP of: agriculture, forestry, fishing & hunting, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction.  Last year, the Massachusetts adult-use cannabis industry employed nearly 17,000 people across all categories of licenses. To put this number in perspective, Massachusetts has 7,241 farms, and the agricultural industry directly employs about 26,000 individuals, and produces an annual market value of over $475 million.

Cannabis is the latest commodity that is making Massachusetts wealthier. 19th century ‘Boston Brahmins’ cemented their socio-economic through industry; their shadowy mysteries aside, these uberwealthy elites were prolific philanthropists. They funded museums, libraries, public gardens, theaters, hospitals, and more. Through their business successes and philanthropy, the public enjoys much of their wealth to this day. How are today’s cannabis titans spreading their wealth, and what is that sustaining?

Could Cannabis be Wealthy & Sustainable?

‘Sustainability’ can be sectored into three pillars: economy, social equity, and environment.

Economically, the monetary statistics of cannabis speak for themselves – cannabis has had significant impact on the Massachusetts market. This new wealth can be utilized to enhance social equity and the environment.

The Cannabis Control Commission has sought social equity by promoting inclusion and diversity in the workforce and publishing guidance plans to operators. Cannabis businesses can also improve existing infrastructure to benefit all people, especially those historically underserved.

The third pillar, environment, can also be enhanced through the cannabis industry. For example, an obsolete shoe factory could be reused and adapted to become a clean, safe, and modern workers’ housing complex. Bankrupt outlet stores are being renovated for new cannabis retail tenants. Many old mill buildings are being retrofitted as cannabis cultivation facilities, and the soil and groundwater are remediated to remove toxic chemicals and pollutants left behind by a careless past.

The cannabis industry can infill the rusted decays left behind by past industries. Cannabis-wealth can improve our shared economy, our social equity, and our environment!

An Architect’s Outro

As an architect, I am deeply interested in buildings and infrastructure; I am also passionate about how buildings affect people’s lives.

As a participant in the emerging cannabis industry, it is important that we balance economic growth with social equity and ecologically-conscious buildings. This blog post is an initial exploration into the history of our Commonwealth’s commodities, trade, and workforce – and finding present-day parallels.

Our firm is proud to be designing state-of-the-art cultivation facilities and people-friendly retail stores. We are excited to have conversations about how cannabis can help revitalize cities and towns. Please reach out to us with thoughts and questions.

  1. How do cannabis operators, with an influx of new capital, invest in improved housing for workers?

  2. How would dilapidated industrial zones benefit from restored waterfront parks?

  3. How can cannabis shed its social stigma and become a champion of a sustainable future?