Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo’s Cannabis Bill Locks Out Farmers and Preserves Illegal Market in New York

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(photo: @nysmallfarma)

As a state government ends the prohibition of cannabis, it can choose to regulate so as to create an industry that favors industrially produced cannabis from large national players and/or it can choose to create a small-scale local cannabis industry. As we’ve now witnessed in Canada, the industrial cannabis industry sacrifices quality for quantity, producing mediocre expensive cannabis, grown at great threat to our planet due to the massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions from indoor cultivation. And as Canada’s example shows, the illegal market will thus continue to flourish.

The only way New York will end the illegal market is if it creates a competitive product. Artisanal craft cannabis, grown under the sun by farmers who know how to produce regenerative high-quality cannabis without synthetic chemicals, is that product. And yet Governor Cuomo’s new bill to legalize adult-use cannabis effectively excludes farmers from growing cannabis.

We at NY Small FarmA, representing the interests of small farmers and those who wish to purchase the healthy, artisanal strains regenerative farmers can produce, were hoping the governor might lead the way in creating this small cultivation and manufacturing industry as he so proudly did for craft breweries.

“New York's craft beverage industry is booming...we have seen significant growth in the number of manufacturers supporting our local farms and spurring job creation across the Empire State,” Cuomo announced in 2018, having just prior proclaimed a record number of breweries in the state he said were “creating jobs, driving tourism, helping our local farms, and instilling pride in every corner of this great state.”

But the bill the governor recently put out as part of his 2020 agenda not only fails to support a craft farm cannabis industry, it makes it impossible for farmers to grow in New York! By failing to recognize cannabis as an agricultural crop and failing to provide the same support the governor provided when recognizing cannabis hemp as an agricultural crop, the governor’s bill will result in the exclusion of farmers from this new industry. This is true because he is not proposing a change to the agriculture and markets law.

The governor knows how to support an agricultural crop when he wants to. He just announced up to $10 million in funding to advance hemp research and economic development opportunities for hemp businesses. When cannabis hemp was legalized in New York, it was expressly recognized as an agricultural crop. Hemp is also the exact same cannabis plant as the plant we all know as marijuana. The only difference between the two is the amount of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol).

Rather than support what could be a huge revitalization of farming communities, the governor’s bill is a gift to large out-of-state businesses. Adding insult to injury, this bill will fail to produce the tax revenues the governor is counting on because his plan will only fuel the existing illegal cannabis market in New York.

There is still time to urge the governor to amend his bill, incorporating the statutory provisions laid out in NY Small FarmA’s platform. If this bill passes without these provisions, New Yorkers’ only options will be to spend more for inferior quality, pesticide-laden cannabis or continue to find less expensive, higher quality cannabis illegally. There will be no option to purchase healthy, pure regeneratively grown, pesticide-free cannabis, unless you know a farmer you trust and are willing to risk the criminal consequences. This is not how prohibition should end.

Andi Novick, Esq., is founder and president of  New York Small Farm Alliance of Cannabis Growers & Supporters (NY Small FarmA). On Twitter @nysmallfarma.

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