Enterprise

New York’s first legal marijuana crop grows under the sun

CLIFTON PARK, NY (AP) — New York City’s recreational marijuana market is starting to sprout, literally, with thin-leaved plants stretching out into the sun on farms across the state.

In a groundbreaking move, New York has given 203 hemp growers the first chance to grow marijuana for legal sale, which could begin by the end of the year. Larger indoor growers are expected to join later.

But for now, the ground is clear for growers like Frank Popolizio of Homestead Farms and Ranch, where a small crew north of Albany earlier this month dug shallow holes for the seedlings before bagging them at the hand.

“It’s an opportunity, obviously there will be a demand,” Popolizio said during a break from planting. “And I hope it will benefit farmers. It had been a long time since there had been a real cash crop.

Popolizio takes care of a half-acre plot that will grow up to 1,000 plants surrounded by a high electrified fence. He and other “conditional grower” license holders can grow up to one acre of marijuana outdoors. They can grow all or part of their crop in greenhouses, but in smaller areas, and use limited lighting.

The license is valid for two years and holders will be able to distribute cannabis flower products to retail dispensaries.

The head start for hemp growers is an unusual way to prepare a marijuana market. Heather Trela, a marijuana policy expert at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, said states typically initially rely on their existing medical producers. New Jersey, for example, this year launched sales of cannabis grown indoors and sold by companies involved in the medical marijuana market.

But New York’s ruling is a potential lifeline for farmers growing their crop for CBD during a price slump. They stand a chance of making a lot more money growing what is essentially the same plant, but with higher levels of THC – the compound that makes people feel good. Popolizio sees this as his “next logical step”.

A lifelong athlete, Popolizio seems like an unlikely cannabis grower. He never blew a joint or chewed a food. But the amateur wrestling trainer and promoter added cannabis to the mix at Homestead along with beef, turkeys and chickens. And he began to appreciate the potential benefits of cannabis for adults.

“I’m open-minded and I’ve come to understand there’s value,” he said.

The inclusion of small farmers also helps the state fulfill its mandate to create an economically and demographically diverse marijuana industry. Likewise, the first licenses to sell recreational marijuana in New York will go to those with marijuana-related convictions or their relatives.

“There is a market that we are building for small players, for large players, for mid-sized players, for family businesses, for large corporations as well,” said Chris Alexander, executive director of the Office of Cannabis. State administration.

This year’s first wave growers are expected to produce a few hundred thousand pounds of product. That would be a fraction of the projected demand in New York, which could eventually be well over one million pounds a year. But state regulators say their launch plan is to balance supply and demand, expanding the crop as new dispensaries open.

“We think it will be enough to provide this initial supply to our dispensary sites that we are setting up,” Alexander said.

Statewide, the vast majority of cannabis grown outdoors and in greenhouses is expected to be made into products like edibles and vapes, with the remainder to be sold as smoking flower, said Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

Cannabis grown outdoors can often contain less THC than plants grown indoors under lights. This makes it less desirable to some consumers, although others appreciate its nuanced characteristics, comparing it to garden-grown tomatoes or a complex glass of wine.

“It’s called sun-grown marijuana,” said grower Moke Mokotoff of Claverack Creek Farm in the Hudson Valley. “And a lot of aficionados like the way it smokes better.”

Growing weed under the sun with sustainable practices also requires far less energy than electricity-intensive indoor crops. Bridge West Consulting managing director Ari Hoffnung said that could mean lower prices.

Aside from pests and bad weather, a big challenge for growing weed outdoors is the threat of theft. Homestead’s half acre is not only surrounded by an electrified fence, but it has motion sensors and other security features.

About an hour south, Mokotoff is taking similar safety precautions and plans to step them up just before harvest, when the plants’ THC content will be at its highest.

“We plan to put people on the pitch to sleep,” Mokotoff said.

The increase in production is expected to come from indoor growers, especially companies that already produce medical marijuana. With regulations still pending, Alexander expects more licenses to be offered early next year.

Major industry players are already poised to take advantage of an expanded market.

Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries is building a growth and manufacturing facility that will cover more than 4.5 acres (18,210 square meters) on the site of a former prison in upstate New York. The Warwick factory is expected to be operational next year, producing a wide range of Green Thumb products.

The company sells its brands in 15 states and has a company supplying medical cannabis in New York.

“New Yorkers have watched the industry thrive from the outside,” CEO Ben Kovler said, “and have high expectations for the future adult-use market.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.