Cannabis Conundrum: getting you the green is not as easy as it seems

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Hundreds of farmers said they’re at their wit’s end, because of the lack of licensed cannabis dispensaries in New York state. Many industry experts say the marijuana many farmers have grown is going to waste.

Farmers say they don’t have a place to sell their crops, leaving many wondering what else they can do.

There are three different types of cannabis licenses a person can get in New York State:

  1. Adult-use conditional cultivator: a license to grow marijuana. Nearly 300 farmers have this license.
  2. Adult-use Conditional Processor: a license to make/produce cannabis products. There are roughly 40 licensed processors in the state.
  3. Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary: a license to sell.

Only 15 have opened since the state started accepting retail dispensaries last summer, according to the state Office of Cannabis Management’s website. Only two are local: Upstate Canna Co. in Schenectady and Legacy Dispensers in Albany, but that shop is strictly delivery only.

OCM is now seeing the anger first-hand at their monthly meetings. The frustration comes from the same place: farmers need a place to sell their products.

“Many cannabis farmers are facing bankruptcy, and they’re very distressed,” May Backer with Grateful Valley Farm said.

“For me personally and other growers, are businesses are going to suffer right from the start,” another farmer said.

“We’re all struggling. We’re emotionally, physically, financially strapped. We’re all trying. We all need an outlet,” Kerry Trammel, owner of The Releaf Market, said.

“The dispensaries are pretty much the king. I’m going to tell you exactly how much I want to pay. I’m going to be very selective about the product,” Jason Ambrosino said.

Ambrosino is one of the 40 people in New York state to have a processing license to make cannabis products. He also owns a hemp store in Broadalbin, Veteran’s Hemp Market.

Ambrosino said with only a handful of dispensaries in the state, it’s a difficult environment for farmers and cannabis processors to get their products on the shelf.

“Unfortunately, what that means is there are farmers out there who are going to reach a point where they have to get cash flow and pretty much have to abandon their license because, ‘If I can’t get the money to at least pay for another round, another try, then what can I do at all?’ Instead, he ends up clearing out his crop for next to nothing,” Ambrosino said.

Luckily for Ambrosino, he said he’s been able to get some cannabis products into the Schenectady dispensary. He also has his hemp store to fall back on.

Gov. Kathy Hochul anticipated last fall that 20 new shops would open every month or so at the start of this year.

Ryan McCall, an Associate Attorney with Tully Rinckey and the Deputy Practice Chair for Cannabis, said when farmers got the green light to grow, they went for it. Now they’re paying the price because cannabis has a shelf-life.

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“The farmers aren’t able to turn a profit. They most likely invested hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in investments. The other issue is products becoming stale and not being able to be sold in a certain period of time,” McCall said.

Dispensaries don’t happen overnight. It takes six to 12 months across the country – on average – from licensure to a dispensary opening its doors.

“I think a lot of the frustration people see is they’ve [New York State] had the opportunity to witness this. Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts all had relatively successful rollouts,” said McCall. “You’re seeing a lot of frustration as to why hasn’t this been done faster?”

Unfortunately, farmers and processors have no choice but to wait for more dispensaries to pop up.

“Given the current state of New York State regulations, they are somewhat restricted to where they can sell. If they aren’t able to sell for medical purposes, then really, at this juncture, the only option they have is to continue to wait it out,” McCall said. “It’s somewhat unfair to the farmers to have to estimate themselves based on OCM’s rollout.”

OCM declined an interview and sent a statement instead:

“With 15 dispensaries up and running and more opening every month, New York’s legal cannabis market is growing every day. We’ve issued hundreds of licenses across the state to entrepreneurs, many of whom are negotiating leases, managing build-outs, and preparing to open their doors. In New York, we’ve adopted an approach like no other state has – putting those most harmed by past prohibition alongside small farmers, not large multi-state operators, in front. The State has implemented three key changes to improve our dispensary rollout — licensees can now get faster and more efficient build-outs through the DASNY fund. We’ll soon have an easy-to-use online locator tool to let licensees know if their preferred locations meet the legal criteria. Lastly, we will make $100,000 reimbursement capital loans available for licensees to cover build-out costs. We are immensely proud of the quality and quantity grown by our first cultivators, and we are here to support them in getting their product to consumers through legal retailers as quickly as possible.”