New York State Sizes Up The Green Gold Rush | National | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram

New York State Sizes Up The Green Gold Rush 

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According to Dr. Roger Green, a retired pediatrician who's active with Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, as the medical bill is currently written, "there are some people who don't really fit the medical category," but who, nonetheless, could benefit from marijuana as medicine. "Sometimes they get worked up, and just once every week or two, they need a little bit of cannabis to relax," Dr. Green says. Revamped medical regulation as part of an omnibus marijuana reform law could expand qualifying conditions, allow more practitioners to authorize prescriptions, reduce training course time, and even provide over-the-counter medicines.

Medical reform could mean a greater variety of products, too, from edibles to smokeable products derived from the flower. The standards for medical marijuana have to be high to meet the needs of immuno-compromised people, Peckham explains, which prevents those kinds of products from being brought to market.

License to Chill

The Compassionate Care Act requires companies to be vertically integrated from seed to sale, driving startup and application costs to exorbitant levels—a barrier to entry that only the exceedingly well-funded have been able to clear. Legalization proponents are committed to avoiding the same mistake for recreational cannabis.

One bold idea for leveling the playing field is to eliminate caps on licenses and to allow micro and partial licenses. Advocates say that would increase competition and allow for a robust ancillary economy to grow up around the core market of cultivation and distribution, as businesses apply for specialized licenses in manufacturing and processing, research, and testing. It's an idea supported by small farmers and entrepreneurs who want entry into the lucrative cannabis tourism industry.

To Leland Radovanovic, a senior strategist with the cannabis communications firm Powerplant Strategies, the legislation in other states missed a golden opportunity on this front. "They thought, 'There are people who grow weed and people who sell weed,' when in reality there are people who make stuff from weed, people who deliver weed, product manufacturers, manufacturers who make oils that get white-labeled, researchers—a whole huge ecosystem."

The micro licenses would allow people who can't afford the full license to participate in the green rush. Micro licenses for manufacturing and selling alcoholic beverages in New York have helped create the flourishing craft brewing and distilling industry in the state. A similar license for cannabis would allow people who aren't as well-funded to start their own small businesses, fostering experimentation and a larger variety of products. "You'll have your Coca-Colas and Pepsis, but you'll also get your Brooklyn Breweries and Hudson Valley Breweries," Radovanovic says.

click to enlarge Hillary, Keeley and Amy Peckham of Etain Health, a family-run, women-owned medical marijuana dispensary with locations in Kingston, New York City, Syracuse, and Yonkers.
  • Hillary, Keeley and Amy Peckham of Etain Health, a family-run, women-owned medical marijuana dispensary with locations in Kingston, New York City, Syracuse, and Yonkers.

"We have an opportunity for New York farmers, our agriculture sector, and the economy to benefit, and for state agencies to set out standards that can be a model for states across the US," says Senator Jen Metzger, the newly elected progressive Democrat from Rosendale and the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "We need to protect the ability of our small farms and farmers to take advantage of a new industry and the opportunities it presents."

Kaelan Castetter, CEO of the Castetter Sustainability Group, a network of small hemp farms throughout New York, is also a proponent of the micro license model, which he says would create a tiered system that allows people to get in at different levels. "That supports small farmers," he says. "And you'll have a large amount of producers funneling into independent stores, which will stock a multitude of product from multiple suppliers."

Castetter would also like to see allowances in the micro licenses for on-premises consumption, which would allow farmers to run small-scale, integrated businesses for marijuana like they already do for farm breweries and wineries. He thinks the idea could have a positive impact on Hudson Valley tourism. "It gives downstaters an incentive to come upstate to consume craft cannabis and travel and spend in our communities," he says. "Most small farmers are small businesses, and I want to create a system that allows them to thrive."

Novick, of the New York Small Farm Alliance of Cannabis Growers and Supporters, takes the idea even further. After studying the farm brewery and farm winery license models, she realized that the MRTA had a blind spot when it came to recognizing cannabis as an agricultural crop. She's drafted an appendix outlining three specific farm licenses that go further than the micro licenses and have higher environmental and sourcing standards: a farm "cannabisery" license that would require growers use 100 percent New York cannabis and regenerative growing methods in exchange for the right to conduct on-site tastings, open as many as five retail stores, and self-distribute; a craft cultivator license, which would require amending the Agriculture and Markets Law to recognize cannabis as a crop and zoning immunity for small farmers to grow up to a half-acre of craft cannabis; and a farm-based cooperative license that would allow small farmers to pool resources to better ensure success in the industry.

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