This article is part of a series on the cannabis industry called “The Green Rush.”
Francis Maguire ’07 was in his senior year at Long Island University, working toward his B.F.A. in printmaking, when the seizures started. They’d strike early in the morning, or when he was stressed, or when he hadn’t slept, and they’d leave him in a mental fog. “It’s like hitting the control-alt-delete button, or holding the power button on your laptop,” he explains. “A lot of memory gets erased.”
A three-year varsity athlete in football, hockey, and lacrosse at Williston, Maguire believes his condition was brought on by the repeated concussions he experienced playing sports, and it would take his doctors the next six years to get his epilepsy under control through medication. In the meantime, Maguire turned to a substance that proved life-changing: cannabis. “It was so compelling, like the difference between day and night,” he says. “I discovered the power that THC [the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis] has on your seizure threshold.”
After earning his degree in art, an interest he discovered at Williston, and then earning an associate’s degree in graphic design from Briarcliffe College, Maguire was working as a freelance designer in New York City and still suffering several seizures a month. After succumbing to one in Penn Station, he wondered if the incessant noise and stress of the city
were contributing to his problems. “I had broken up with my girlfriend at that point, and I was like, why am I still here?” Needing something new, he made a bold decision to change his life.
In 2017, he moved to the Berkshires to become a cannabis grower.
“I remember bus trips out here to play different schools, specifically Berkshire Academy,” recalls Maguire, now an Adams, Massachusetts, resident and president of Stafford Green, an outdoor organic cannabis farm in nearby Cheshire that cultivated its first crop of just under 3,000 plants this summer. “I was just always fascinated with the terrain and how quiet it seemed.”
Starting any new business is challenging, growing cannabis outdoors in New England particularly so. Maguire, who has no previous experience in agriculture, has had to make sizeable investments (roughly a half-million dollars so far), navigate complicated state regulations, and win over agitated neighbors at local meetings. What has allowed him to get this far, he says, is the “endless well of support and encouragement” of his family. His father, a former engineer for the Steamship Authority on Cape Cod, is his capital investor. His mother is his secretary. A cousin is head of marketing and a company director. “It’s a very tight circle,” Maguire says.
Another factor that has eased the process was Stafford Green’s status as a minority-owned business. Maguire’s mother is Cape Verdean, allowing Maguire to qualify for financial benefits—such as the waiving of fees for business software—through the state’s Supplier Diversity Office. “We’ve been very grateful for that classification, and a lot of that is due to my parents helping out with the paperwork.”
Like the support of his family, Maguire says his time at Williston gave him the confidence to take on something unfamiliar. Arriving on campus and joining an athletic team, “it really bolstered my mental fortitude when it came to dealing with new situations and new people,” he says. And he continues to be inspired by his own personal experience with cannabis. “It has helped me in so many ways,” he says. “Obviously, everybody’s here to make money. That’s how capitalism works. But this is something that just called to me.”