It’s almost planting season in Upstate New York, and farmers are ready to spring into action.
But for the farmers hoping to jump into the recently legalized business of growing marijuana for recreational use, there’s a problem. The state may not authorize the planting of that marijuana for a year or two.
“It’s really unnecessary and potentially devastating to New York farmers and the cannabis industry here,” said Allan Gandelman of Cortland, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. “We don’t want to be left behind here in New York.”
Possession of up to 3 ounce of marijuana by those 21 and older became legal across the state effective last week. But many of marijuana legalization’s other provisions, like retail sales, homegrowing and commercial farming and production, will be delayed until the state creates a regulatory agency and sets up the specific rules for them.
Upstate New York farmers and growers, who stand to benefit from the cannabis expansion, are feeling a sense of urgency to get started.
At Breathing Web Farms in Borodino, just south of Skaneateles, owners Samir Mahadin and Kristin Rocco are ready now. They are among hundreds of potential marijuana growers across Upstate New York. Most already farm industrial hemp, the cannabis relative of marijuana that does not contain significant levels of THC, the psychoactive compound that creates the “high.” (That hemp is used in the production of CBD and other products).
“We could get (marijuana) seeds started in May, have it in the ground in June and harvest in late September, maybe October,” said Mahadin, who has planted as much as 12 acres of industrial hemp in the past, but cut back last year. “Then we could, in theory, have legal marijuana available to customers this fall.”
The likelihood of that happening is not good, Mahadin and Gandelman admit. But they’re trying.
Gandelman, who owns Head + Heal, a cannabis grower and processor in Cortland, said one major reason to accelerate the state’s timetable is the potential for federal marijuana legalization.
While he supports that, Gandelman said the problem is timing. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the plants, the seeds and any byproducts containing the psychoactive compound THC can’t cross state lines. That, in effect, creates a bubble that would nurture a start-up marijuana industry, especially for the mostly Upstate farmers and growers.
But if marijuana is legal at the federal level, there would be immediate and intense competition from businesses in states that have had a head start in growing and processing.
“We have a window of opportunity to create this new industry, right here,” Gandelman said. “But that window could close quickly, and that could destroy our farmers and processors before they get started. That’s why it really makes no sense to wait until 2022 or 2023 to start.”
Currently, New York is home to about 700 cannabis growers. Aside from the 10 large licensed medical providers who are growing marijuana, the others grow industrial hemp. There are about 100 processors who can turn that hemp into products like CBD (cannabidiol).
The marijuana law contains some other benefits for hemp farmers, including a provision that allows them to sell hemp flower (non-THC) directly. But that will also likely be delayed while rules are set out.
Eventually, according to some estimates, the state’s legal marijuana industry could generate $4 billion a year, with a potential to support 30,000 to 60,000 jobs. (And it could provide about $350 million in annual taxes, the state says).
That’s another reason those in the industry are eager to get started.
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette, for example, has created a cannabis and hemp division of its business, in hopes of eventually turning out beverages that contain either CBD (which is legal now) or THC (marijuana). Beak & Skiff is already growing and processing hemp.
“We are certainly interested in expanding into growing and processing legal marijuana,” said company president Eddie Brennan. “Our interest is really the end product, but we’re hoping to take part in all aspects.”
Beak & Skiff might be able to take advantage of a provision in the new law that allows some smaller businesses to do “vertical integration,” from growing to processing to end products and even hosting what the state calls “social consumption lounges.” They would operate like existing farm-based wineries and breweries.
“I understand doing this all takes time,” Brennan said. “But there are a lot of opportunities, so the sooner we can get started the better.”
Legal marijuana in NY: What you need to know about possession, growing, business opportunities
Don Cazentre writes for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at email@example.com, or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook.