New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has signed a bill ahead of the growing season that will provide a shot in the arm for the state’s hemp farmers. The new law allows hemp farmers to cultivate and distribute cannabis for adult use ahead of the broader launch of the state’s adult use industry.
The new licenses will create “a pathway for existing New York hemp farmers to” submit an application to grow cannabis for adult use during the 2022 growing season, Hochul said in an announcement on Tuesday. Hochul added that she was “proud” to sign the bill, “which positions New York’s farmers to be the first to grow cannabis and jumpstart the safe, equitable and inclusive new industry we are building.” Lawmakers estimate that roughly 150 hemp farmers could qualify.
“New York State will continue to lead the way in delivering on our commitment to bring economic opportunity and growth to every New Yorker in every corner of our great state,” Hochul said.
Until now, a hemp grower license allowed farmers to grow cannabis plants with .3% THC or less, which is what differentiates what is called “hemp” from what is commonly known as “marijuana,” though both are cannabis. The new license types available to hemp growers and processors are Conditional Adult-use Cultivator License and Conditional Adult-use Processor License. Cultivators will be allowed to grow cannabis and distribute cannabis flower, while Processors will be able to manufacture cannabis extracts, for example, and infused products. Both are “required to participate in an environmental sustainability program and a social equity mentorship program.” The licenses will be allocated until December, and will be valid until next year, after which they would have to apply under the adult use program.
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act into law last March after years of failed negotiations with lawmakers. The crux of the threeway debate between Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Sen. Liz Krueger, and Cuomo this last, successful time, was over equity provisions, on which the lawmakers insisted. Peoples-Stokes said in a statement on Tuesday that “the temporary conditional licenses authorized by this bill will ultimately help realize the vision and goals of the MRTA.”
Krueger thanked lawmakers and Hochul for passing the bill, calling the legislation an “important step in ensuring an adequate supply of cannabis for the adult-use market while prioritizing New York farmers, supporting social and economic equity mentorship programs, and encouraging environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.”
Since the formation of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management and, within it, the Cannabis Control Board, cannabis regulators have said during public meetings that draft rules for the adult use industry are expected this spring and that the formal industry could launch as soon as later this year. Meanwhile, the state has expanded the medical cannabis and cannabinoid hemp programs.
New York’s hemp growers have faced a difficult couple of years due in part to delays in rules, and also a surplus that sent prices crashing. Hemp growers will now get a head start in the adult use industry.
Assemblymember Donna Lupardo, one the state’s loudest legislative supporters of the hemp industry, told Cannabis Wire that her “main objective” was to help the hemp farmers who got involved in New York’s industry early, or the people Lupardo calls “risk takers.”
“A lot of them got caught up in the collapse when the CBD market fell. Here they are with the experience, the knowledge and expertise, and the interest in mentoring. It seems like just a positive win all around in my view,” Lupardo told Cannabis Wire.
Lupardo added that the hemp farmers who are “jumping on this opportunity” are the ones who for the most part grew hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) extracts.
Allan Gandelman, founder and president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, told Cannabis Wire that he was “super happy” with the bill because it gave hemp farmers “opportunity from the get go.” He added that many of the state’s hemp farmers want to grow higher-THC cannabis, and said that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the passage of the bill could help many of those hemp farmers who struggled over the past couple of years.
“The bill struck a good balance of getting this program started without too many difficult barriers to entry,” Gandelman said. “I’m not looking at this as just a one year kind of cash grab. To me, it’s more like building a long term sustainable supply chain made up of diverse cultivators serving a diverse group of dispensary owners. And I think that’s ultimately what this bill is accomplishing right now.”
The legislation creates the Social Equity Mentorship Program, which will create a “viable and inclusive path for social and economic equity partners interested in cannabis cultivation and processing to gain invaluable knowledge and experience in this emerging industry,” Peoples-Stokes added.
Peoples-Stokes told Cannabis Wire about the specific need for equity-related safeguards in MRTA for the future industry, because “at the end of the day, things don’t shake out being well-intended for Black people in New York or in America.”
Over the weekend, Peoples-Stokes launched the EquityPAC, which counts as one of its priorities “pathways to generational wealth in the burgeoning cannabis industry.” She was joined at the Harlem Repertory Theatre by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs, as well as by advocates and aspiring industry stakeholders.
“Cannabis equity is the first step towards economic fairness,” Peoples-Stokes said during the event. “It is probably the first industry that we actually, as a people, have an opportunity to grow generational wealth in this country. And I think if we pass legislation and then don’t keep doing the work to make sure it’s implemented right, we could lose the opportunity.”