By JENNIFER PELTZ and KAREN MATTHEWS
NEW YORK (AP) — New York is paving the way for hemp farmers to get a head start on growing marijuana for legal sales that are expected to begin next year.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Tuesday that lets hemp cultivators apply for two-year licenses to grow for the forthcoming legal recreational market for pot; like hemp, it’s a type of cannabis plant. Licensees can start planting marijuana this spring.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Allan Gandelman, a Cortland-based hemp grower and the president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. “The state is really standing behind the goal of putting New York’s existing small businesses first.”
For the state, it’s a way to start gearing up supply and showing progress toward launching what’s expected to become one of the United States’ biggest legal marijuana markets. While New York legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults nearly a year ago, officials are still working on regulations for growing and selling it.
The measure will “jump-start the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building,” Hochul, a Democrat, said in a news release. The legislation includes environmental standards and requires licensees to provide training for people of color, women, disabled veterans and others the state terms social equity applicants.
At the moment, New York’s only legal marijuana growers are 10 companies that supply medical weed to roughly 125,000 registered patients. Gandelman estimates about 200 small-scale hemp farmers could meet the new licensing requirements, which include having grown hemp for at least two of the last four years.
“That would provide a starting point for the supply chain. It’s not going to be nearly enough” to meet the expected demand, he said, “but it’s a good start.”
The new law, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Hinchey (D-Saugerties), throws a lifeline to hemp farmers, who have seen prices tumble nationwide since a peak in 2019, shortly after Congress legalized the plant. Factors in the price collapse include oversupply and regulatory uncertainty surrounding CBD, a popular, non-intoxicating chemical derived from hemp.
“So the opportunity to grow another crop that’s profitable is certainly something that’s welcome,” said Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an industry group.
At the same time, the group is wary of blurring lines between marijuana and hemp, which gained Congress’ approval as a substance that doesn’t get people high.
“This is a temporary, conditional program, and we want to see how things go but we want to make sure that in the long run, those boundaries are kept separate,” Miller said.
But some hemp farmers, including Gandelman, are interested in doing both.
A former high school teacher, he started growing organic vegetables about a decade ago and subsequently got into hemp, which Congress legalized in 2018. He and business partner Karli Miller-Hornick also make and sell CBD products under the brand name Head & Heal.
The hemp business has had a rocky few years, but “the good part was we got really good experience in growing cannabis in upstate New York, and so that has a lot of value,” he said.