December 1, 2021

Hemp industry moves forward

But New York continues to weed through recreational cannabis

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Ben Reagan, left, and Will Vanhousen of New York hemp Oil on Main street in Cortland work on extracting the oil from hemp plants Wednesday afternoon. The state has provided the hemp industry with regulations, but there has been no deciding factor on adult use marijuana in the state.

Although the state has released guidelines for the hemp industry, and New Jersey approved recreational marijuana, New York’s choice regarding adult-use marijuana is still up in the air, said Allan Gandelman, the president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

Gandelman, who co-owns New York Hemp Oil on Main Street in Cortland and Main Street Farms, said much of the state’s hemp regulations were to be expected, but there was one surprise: a ban on hemp flowers, a decision that would affect small farmers.

“That was a big surprise to us and to all of the hemp farmers in New York state and all of the retail stores that are selling hemp flower,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

The state Department of Health proposed the regulations in accordance with legislation passed earlier this year establishing a Cannabinoid Hemp Program. There are federal regulations for growing hemp, but not for processing cannabinoid products. New York’s proposed regulations require laboratory testing and labeling to ensure consumers get what they pay for, without harmful contaminants.

There is a 60-day comment period on the regulations. Gandelman said he and others are compiling comments to give to the state Department of Health to persuade the state to allow the sale of hemp flowers.

Hemp flower is a widely used product to replace tobacco for smoking, Gandelman said. Claims of benefits in coping with arthritis, hypertension, cancer and multiple sclerosis have been made, but still lack federal approval.

“It’s probably one of the bigger sellers as far as hemp goes across the county right now and the market is growing for it quickly as people realize that they like it,” he said.

It’s also something that is easy for smaller farmers, without a processing system, to grow at a smaller scale.

“It’s the easiest entry point into the market for small farms,” he said. “So when you ban that product, you’re really taking away the biggest economic opportunity from a lot of the farmers from around the state as it’s related to hemp.”

Gandelman said his company doesn’t sell flowers in the state, but rather wholesale. However, he wants the change to the regulations, so he could have the opportunity to sell flowers in the state if he wanted to.

But while the state has pretty much settled on regulations for the hemp industry it has not settled on making adult use marijuana legal, leaving it almost surrounded by other states that have.

New Jersey on Tuesday joined Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont to legalize adult-use marijuana.

“Now we’re surrounded by states that have a legal adult use marijuana program,” Gandelman said.

Gandelman said he’s been hearing that adult use will likely pass in New York next year. While he remains hopeful, Gandelman said passage is not a certainty, but conversations between the governor’s office, Department of Health and the cannabis association will resume in December on legalizing marijuana.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will suggest his own bill, as will the state Legislature. After that, the two must come together and create one law.

“In the past two years they have not been able to come to a compromise,” Gandelman said.

He said many things could impact whether the law passes. One is whether the Democrats will maintain the majority in the Senate. It had a solid grip on 34 of the 63 seats after Election Night, and led in two other districts.

“Traditionally, it has been the Democrats who have been pushing this forward,” he said.

But being surrounded by other states could swing officials in favor of the million- dollar, if not billion-dollar industry.

“If you go to a dispensary across the New York border in Massachusetts, every car has a New York license plate,” Gandelman said.

And the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and whether the federal government will give funding to the state could influence lawmakers’ votes.

“I think it’s starting to play a role,” Gandelman said. “I think the governor has been waiting for a Biden presidency to bail New York out and without a federal government bailout of that state’s financial problems, they are much more likely to pass an adult-use cannabis program for tax revenue reasons.”

However, he said whether adult use will happen is just a toss up now.