Farmers Seek Outlet for Cannabis Crops as State Dispensaries Lag Behind
In a race against time, New York’s cannabis growers find themselves in a precarious situation. Sitting on millions of dollars’ worth of cannabis, they anxiously await the opening of state-licensed dispensaries to sell their products. Meanwhile, on tribal reservations in Western New York, cannabis sales are thriving with the recent opening of the Senecas’ first Nation-owned dispensary in Niagara Falls. However, hope may be on the horizon as a new bill may grant growers the opportunity to sell directly to tribally-licensed stores on sovereign lands.
The State Legislature has approved a groundbreaking bill that permits licensed marijuana growers in New York to sell their cannabis and cannabis products to adult-use cannabis retailers on tribal lands. This move is not only beneficial for cultivators who need to offload their stored products but also provides a much-needed outlet for Western New York farmers to sell their crops.
The bill acknowledges the challenges faced by state-sanctioned cannabis cultivators, who have seen their products languish in warehouses since the fall harvest due to the slow rollout of licensed state dispensaries. With only a handful of retailers open in the state and none in Western New York, growers have been grappling with limited avenues to sell their crops, despite the upcoming planting season. Many farmers express frustration at the botched retail rollout and urge the authorities to expedite the process.
Recognizing the need for alternative distribution channels, the Office of Cannabis Management is actively working on regulations to allow growers and retailers to hold farmer’s markets. This initiative aims to provide additional opportunities for selling products outside of traditional storefront retail. However, some growers, like Thomas Szulist, owner of Singer Farm Naturals, view these measures as mere Band-Aids on a much larger issue: the failure to establish an effective distribution system.
Agreeing with Szulist’s sentiment, I, too, believe that the potential sales at farmers’ markets hold promise for the cannabis industry. Cannabis is more than just a recreational substance; it possesses nutraceutical properties that can benefit consumers. By allowing farmers to directly sell their cannabis products, consumers can have access to high-quality, locally grown offerings while supporting the agricultural community.
For farmers like Szulist, the challenges are mounting. Storing raw cannabis flower is not a viable long-term solution due to the risk of spoilage. As a result, he has resorted to processing his marijuana into more shelf-stable cannabis products, incurring significant additional costs. The absence of distribution channels compounds the problem, leaving farmers uncertain about when they will recoup their investments.
Chris Van Dusen, co-owner of Empire Hemp Co., echoes the urgency felt by growers. With $300,000 worth of unsold product, Van Dusen finds himself traveling weekly to New York City to deliver to a limited number of licensed retailers. However, these sales are insufficient to sustain their operations, leaving them in dire need of additional outlets.
While the prospect of selling products to retailers on tribal reservations appears promising, concerns about profitability linger. The reservation prices are currently at rock bottom, potentially affecting the prices offered to growers. Licensed stores, on the other hand, offer more favorable margins. Nonetheless, the dire situation faced by Empire and other cultivators necessitates action, even if it means accepting lower profits for the time being.
Farmers are wary of depleting their stock by selling to reservations and then facing a shortage when state dispensaries finally open. This Catch-22 situation highlights the urgency for a comprehensive solution that addresses both immediate sales needs and future dispensary openings.
Awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature, the Cannabis Crop Rescue Act presents hope for growers. The act would allow adult-use cultivators and processors to sell tested, packaged, and sealed cannabis products to tribal nation-licensed dispensaries
for retail purposes. The Seneca Nation has expressed its support for the bill, emphasizing the opportunity for productive collaboration between sovereign entities.
As the cannabis industry in New York navigates its early stages, it is crucial to support the farmers who have taken on considerable risk and yet remain far from breaking even. By expediting the establishment of state dispensaries and exploring innovative avenues such as farmer’s markets, we can help provide the necessary cash flow for these farmers while ensuring consumers have access to safe and regulated cannabis products.
The journey toward a thriving cannabis market in New York demands collaboration, effective regulation, and swift action. Only then can the potential of this industry be fully realized, benefiting farmers, consumers, and the state as a whole.