By KEN ROSSIGNOL
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
A pot factory is gearing up in the St. Mary’s County community of Abell, with a massive marijuana-growing building erected that rivals some of the largest aircraft hangers at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Charlie Mattingly is the managing partner in the corporation that owns the complex that has drawn the ire of neighbors in the quiet community of farms and waterfront homes.
Mattingly points to the more than 100 jobs the pot-growing facility will provide to the area.
The website indeed.com advertised on April 12, 2022, that there were 211 jobs in the medical cannabis industry available across Maryland. The jobs have names such as ‘budtender,’ retail service provider, Cannabis Advisor, Marketing Coordinator, Cultivation Specialist, Patient Service Provider, Facilities Maintenance Technician, and Extraction Technician. One ad for an executive noted that the applicant had to be over the age of twenty-one.
In an interview, Mattingly said he was first interested in the benefits of medical marijuana to alleviate pain when he suffered severe diverticulitis, which led to more intense medical problems. Mattingly noted that his facility was given the green light to operate on a farm in the Seventh District that he inherited from his grandfather.
The decision to place the marijuana growing corporation in a farming area came from the genius regularly displayed in the esteemed village of Leonardtown by the St. Mary’s County Commissioners.
Various residents of the Avenue and Abell communities said they were never allowed to express their views on having a monstrous industrial operation placed in their area of a quiet rural community located in the Critical Areas Commission. Property owners in the critical areas can’t place a shed on their property without going through an arduous permitting process. New homes are restricted almost entirely. Any uses such as installing a pool or adding a garage or a porch are virtually impossible to build without spending thousands of dollars on engineers and attorneys.
Mattingly says his business met all the requirements of the State of Maryland, which has the final say on where a license can be operated.
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Others say that is malarkey and that Calvert County opted out of the placement of a facility in that county, and Charles County said that as long as such an operation went into a properly designated zone for commercial and industrial use, it would be fine.
The St. Mary’s County reaction was that the pot factory was an agricultural use. Any land zone for horticulture would be acceptable, which is about what one might expect out of the Hooterville Zoning Office in Leonardtown.
Commissioner President Randy Guy sides with staff in Pot Factory – opposes any probe
The crossfire of charges and counter-charges is beginning to shake the boredom out of the mundane 2022 election as the gossip mill says that one Avenue stalwart wanted to be able to invest in the massive marijuana operation and, when he was turned down, has started his own campaign to drive out the pot factory. Mattingly says that the important 7th District would-be investor was given a chance to invest initially but turned it down and only changed his tune when he saw that the pot factory would be a reality and likely a great success.
Watermen have allegedly been told that the factory’s effluent will dump toxic water into the creeks and the Potomac nearby, while heavy water use will deplete the aquifer and cause wells to run dry.
At the public hearing held on April 12, 2022, St. Mary’s Watermen’s Association President Robert T. Brown gave a blistering attack on the pot factory. Brown cites stormwater runoff, depletion of water quality, causing wells to dry up due to the heavy use of water for the pot factory, and destruction of oyster beds.
Former St. Mary’s County Commissioner Frances Eagan had a statement read for her at the public forum. She blasted the pot factory and said the facility’s existence would put the county at a disadvantage when the next Base Realignment and Closure board considers the future of Pax River NAS.
THE COMPLETE STATEMENT FROM COMMISSIONER EAGAN
Thank you, commissioners, for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and concerns.
Rex and I built our forever home over 20 years ago in the 7th district, and yes, we are still considered newcomers. We retired here and plan to die here. We never minded the new homes and new neighbors change is inevitable.
This brings me to the massive change happening in Abell. A 50,000 plus sq ft building, paved parking lot for 100 vehicles, and the rape of this farmland. To say I was shocked when I saw it is an understatement!
I prided myself in being a property rights activist, as long as our county and its citizens will not be harmed by the development of the property.
As I understand it, we and our sister counties had an opportunity to decide how this type of development would be handled. Calvert chose not to allow it in their county, Charles made modifications to their comprehensive plan and we in St. Mary’s County chose to do nothing! You chose to follow the suggestion by planning and zoning that our comprehensive plan allows for agriculture/horticulture, and this would fall under that determination. Now, most of you have used the excuse, “our comprehensive plan allowed for this” and “we can’t do anything about it”.
Well commissioners you could have!!! Just like Calvert County did. But you choose not to. Not sure how you can defend that decision. Could it be you didn’t understand the significance? Or you were not kept informed by your staff and the impact it would have? Or just not interested? Or is something else not explainable? Whatever the reason, we are now left with a site that looks like a major industrial zone in the critical area.
Decisions have been made in the past regarding development that would have provided many jobs but were denied, by previous boards. One comes to mind. The federal prison that was proposed to be built in Mechanicsville. It was decided that would not be the type of economic growth we wanted to project to the base realignment Committee (BRAC). So many of us (including some of you) fought to keep our major economic engine right here in St. Mary’s and hopefully to expand it. A prison does not project the message we wanted to send to the BRAC committee.
I believe this cannabis growing and distribution plant is the same kind of business not good for our county.
I know medical marijuana is legal in the state of Maryland, but it is an illegal drug on the federal level. And our military and DoD workers are federal employees and our largest site of employment is a federal facility.
Are we willing to take the chance that if there is another BRAC, this may be the tiebreaker on whether the navy stays in St. Mary’s or leaves? This is not so far-fetched.
This is a matter of morals versus business. If marijuana is federally illegal, and this community’s primary focus is on the service of the federal government, why would we allow this business to invalidate our sense of morality? We as a county commission do not knowingly disobey federal mandate. If this business is so important, then why have we painstakingly devoted time and resources in the hopes of keeping our federal government workers, servicemen and women here in St. Mary’s County, by making decisions that are conducive to the navy. We have supported our federal government here for decades and make sure that they stay because that is the lifeblood of this community. Why would we potentially jeopardize that for another business that is illegal in the eyes of that same institution that puts food on the table of many of citizens?
I ask to know why your department head did not bring this to the commissioners as an enormous undertaking, and one that could drastically change the economic landscape of this community.
Our business is the federal government, and the department of defense. Not in marijuana. It is the government and DoD that has made St. Mary’s County flourish. Not marijuana. We should not jeopardize that for a business that has fringe legality and questionable business practices.
Thank you, Francy Eagan (former county commissioner)
Claim is scaremongering
Frances Eagan asserts it is “not far-fetched” to suggest that a marijuana grow facility in Abell could be the “tiebreaker on whether the navy stays in St. Mary’s or leaves,” if there is another BRAC. Not only is this argument far-fetched but it is deceitful scaremongering. If the presence of marijuana use and production is a negative factor in the retention of military bases, then there would be none in the entire State of California, for example.
Apparently, she is uninformed about the BRAC process. If NAWCAD Patuxent River is the object of a future BRAC, it is because the Navy has recommended its realignment or closure based on an evaluation of its “current and future mission capabilities and the impact on operational readiness.” The greatest threat to the navy base is encroachments that degrade the utilization of its military airspace, not a business in Abell.
Eagan does a disservice to the public debate about this facility by distracting attention from the fundamental issues, which are the failure of zoning regulations to prevent an industrial land use disguised as agriculture, and the questionable manner this business proposal was processed by the Department of Land Use and Growth Management.
Eagan claims that this is “a matter of morals versus business,” which should not be allowed “to invalidate our sense of morality.” Her moral opposition to marijuana clouds her judgment. The issue is not about marijuana use whether medicinal or recreational or the legalities. It is entirely about zoning, and perhaps unethical official conduct. I would argue that the timing of this controversy is more about politics in an election year.
Citizens cite an array of heavy equipment to run climate control and spew fumes into the area
The facility has massive generators to provide heating and cooling for the facility’s HVAC that are the size of tractor-trailers. There are as many as 14 to 20 of the units, depending on who is telling the tale.
Nobody can have political wars like St. Mary’s County. A tale is told of two St. Mary’s County Commissioners playing the typical Good Old Boy role and walking in and telling the Land Use Director to approve the site or else. Some even say the drama has caused zoning guru Harry Knight to quit.
One day in 1973, a man went to the St. Mary’s County permits office at lunchtime, and a secretary gave the official of Steuart Oil Company a permit for an oil refinery. The uproar caused Senator Paul J. Bailey to sponsor a bill providing for a referendum on whether refineries would be allowed in the county. A special referendum was held, and a two-to-one margin vote defeated the refinery.
Does the 1974 law ban Pot Factory?
At its 1974 session, the General Assembly had enacted Chapter 583 of the Laws of 1974, referred to by the parties as the Bailey Bill,4 which would add a new section 4.01(c) to Maryland Code (1957, 1970 Repl. Vol., 1975 Cum. Supp.) Art. 66B, subject, however, to referendum by the voters of the County: In St. Mary’s County, land and buildings may not be used for chemical or catalytic manufacturing, chemical fabrication, gasoline processing, or refining of petroleum or petroleum products. This prohibition does not apply to land and buildings used for these purposes on July 23, 1974.
A proposal presented to the Talbot County Commissioners by lobbyist and former State Senator John Pica in 2015 envisioned putting a pot factory in a shuttered Black & Decker warehouse in the county’s business park.
Another cannabis growing facility in Showell in Worcester County is described in one news article as appearing to be a small prison with a chain-link fence topped with razor wire and decorated with security cameras. The Shore Natural RX got underway in 2017.
After a few rounds of claims of bias and one Baltimore City Delegate offering her services in exchange for a bribe, which ended in her conviction and removal from office when she went to prison, the Maryland General Assembly passed new rules to govern the inclusion of women and minorities owning at least 51% of the ownership of an operation by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY
Just like in the smash-hit musical West Side Story, the story of the pot manufacturing plant on Abell Road even has a pool hall.
Charlie Mattingly, the owner of the Southern Maryland Relief CBD dispensary, which opened on October 23, 2017, and is located on Rt. 235, convenient to a nearby dental office for those who really are in pain, in Mechanicsville, also is the CEO of the Southern Maryland Relief, Story of Maryland LLC. He owns the Action Billiards in Leonardtown, next to the Salsa restaurant.
The various company names include such colorful and fanciful monikers as KINGFISH INVESTMENTS, MDH, SJB VENTURES LLC, HECO LLC, and ADVANCING HORIZONS LLC. James D. Danielson is recited as an exchange of ownership in the transactions as well.
Taniert Investments LLC and Dobsis LLC were also stakeholders in the mysterious swaps of ownership in the pot factory.
One of the purposes of the prior approval and submission is for the Commission to investigate the applicants for criminal history. The entire point of legalizing pot growing for medical purposes was to remove the criminals from the process. Not that the selling of influence by Maryland politicians was prevented, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Mattingly was delinquent entirely in notifying the Medical Cannabis Commission of changes in ownership in the corporation – four times – and was reprimanded with a fine of $27,000 on March 14, 2022, and $21,000 as listed in the order in the file below: