The cannabis industry is just starting to flower in New York. The first crop of legal cannabis has been grown in the state, and Back Home Farms on Lucas Turnpike, High Falls, got one of the few commercial licenses to grow cannabis after years of growing hemp. Cannabis is a crop with a much larger market than hemp, according to Will Leibee, the owner-operator and founding head farmer at Back Home Farms. Having a hemp-growing license was a requirement to get one of the $2,000 temporary licenses that last for two years. Leibee has grown approximately 800 pounds of sun-grown cannabis this season to sell to storefronts across New York.
Current law states that commercially grown cannabis has to be sold in licensed New York storefronts. This means that the 800 pounds of cannabis flower grown by Back Home Farms are just sitting in offsite long-term storage until storefronts begin to open in New York. Amid the hold-up on the storefronts being approved, the black market is filling the void with bodegas selling illegal products from states such as California.
“This flower will only stay good for seven to nine months,” said Leibee, “then it must be turned to oil or it will deteriorate. … I think a lot of growers are turning their product into distillate forms so that the shelf life of the product is extended.” When asked about how the process of obtaining the licenses was for Leibee, he said, “It has been a rollercoaster, as I am sure it is with most new sectors of business … It was really exciting at first because we could be the first into this industry, and in my small case I could help offset some of the cost of our organic vegetable operation, and really what's turned out so far is more expenses and nowhere to sell … That said, maybe nine months from now we will have some dispensaries to sell to.”
A 27-page Guidance for Adult Use Retail Dispensaries was released recently. This details everything that needs to be done to operate a legal storefront for cannabis in New York, as well as the information that must be submitted to the Office of Cannabis Management. The Office of Cannabis Management was created based on a law passed on March 31, 2021, called the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act. Gov. Kathy Hochul told the Advance Media New York editorial board, “We expect the first 20 dispensaries to open by the end of this year, and then every month or so another 20. So we’re not going to just jam it out there. It’s going to work and be successful.”
Leibee was initially nervous to put the Back Home Farms branding on his cannabis product due to the stigma that could be attached, and he considered an entirely separate brand for the farm’s cannabis product. When asked about the marketing, Leibee said, “I actually decided an hour ago to do Back Home Farms branding. I was going back and forth, and it's going to be Back Home Cannabis Co. The reason I didn’t at first was because I didn’t want some of our customers to think that we are these pothead people, I didn’t want the drug stigma to hurt my vegetable company. I have been in this community for five years now, and I have a lot of friends who are neighbors and other growers and stuff. I think the first immediate reaction is ‘whoa, Will, you are a pot farmer, like whoa, man, like what's up with that? …’
“At first, I was afraid of that resistance as it could potentially hurt me, but within literally the last couple of days I am thinking why would I be afraid of change here? I have to embrace it and I have to embrace it with what I know. What I know is that this crop interplants with the rest of our vegetables really well, it treats the soil really well, and it sequesters carbon really well. There is a massive taproot in the cannabis plant that breaks up the hardpan and allows drainage on the field to be a whole lot better. The size of the taproot is between 2-3 feet. We specifically buy crops that we don't harvest just to do that. Daikon radish is something we grow just to break the hardpan, and we won’t even harvest those radishes. If I can be growing cannabis and be doing that exact same process and sequestering carbon and it being a cash crop … how can it be more sustainable than that? It is like the best of so many worlds. What I am thinking is that I can’t be afraid of the stigma because I have seen with my own eyes the ecological benefits.”
Leibee continued, “We have grown our product this season and we have paid our labor and we have paid the application fee, which was $2,000. Now we have a product, but the state has not gotten any storefronts open. The story for all the farmers right now is that they have the product and nowhere to sell it.”
When asked about the pricing of their product when it does get to shelves, Leibee said, “Pricing will be depicted by the market, but there is no market currently.” Pricing of cannabis can vary wildly based on the laws of the state and the growing conditions of each state. The Oxford Treatment Center has a range for the price of a high-quality ounce of cannabis at $597.88 in Washington, D.C., and the lowest at $210.75 in Oregon. This is due to cannabis being illegal to purchase in Washington, but in Oregon cannabis has been legal recreationally since 2015, with very permissive laws including allowing home-grow, like New York is going to.
There are also companies much larger than Back Home Farms moving into the emerging cannabis industry in Ulster County. Former Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced on April 17, 2022, that Cresco Labs, a “vertically integrated cannabis and medical marijuana company, is moving forward with their plans to site a major cannabis cultivation, processing, packaging, and distribution facility in the Ellenville area.” Cresco labs currently have a market cap of $1.36 billion. A vertically integrated cannabis company is one that does each step of cannabis production within its own corporation. This means that Cresco cultivates, uses lab and extraction processes, manufactures the product and labels, and sells these products to the various storefronts that have yet to be created. Ryan continued, “Cresco Labs investment grew from under $100,000,000 in preliminary plans to a final figure of approximately $200,000,000 … The estimated job creation grew from an early estimated 350 full-time jobs to the current estimate of 475 jobs, including 375 for facility operations and 100 for the nearly two-year construction of the project.”
Leibee said, when asked about his plans for edibles and other distillate products similar to what Cresco is producing, “The more I can focus on the ecology and our soil here and what we have going for us in the Hudson Valley, the better quality product we will have.”
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