October 1, 2023


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NY’s Weed Farmers Still Don’t Know Where They’re Going to Sell It

  • Legal sales of recreational marijuana are set to begin in New York City in late 2022.
  • The first legal growers were granted licenses in April so that they could have harvests ready for sale.
  • With just months to go, marijuana farmers still don’t know how they’re going to sell their crops.

It’s been over a year since New York state legalized recreational marijuana, and hundreds of farms around the state are currently growing the first legal harvest for sale.

There’s just one catch: No one knows when the first licensed stores will open, and it’s a major unknown for the 146 licensed farms that have invested tens of millions of dollars in facilities, seeds, and labor.

“Right now, that is one of the largest uncertainties,” Hudson Hemp CEO Melany Dobson told Insider during a recent visit to the newly-converted marijuana farm in Hudson, New York.

Hudson Hemp is one of the first farms to get a license from the state’s Cannabis Control Board to produce marijuana for recreational use. It’s two hours north of New York City, on a 2,700-acre farm property owned by John D. Rockefeller’s granddaughter (who is also an investor in the company). 

The farm is completely converting production from non-psychoactive cannabis, often called hemp, to high-THC cannabis.

“We’re putting a ton of money into our cultivation, our harvesting, our curing, our trimming, the whole packaging line,” Dobson said. “And at this moment in time, I do not know where we will transact our first sales.”

Though Tremaine Wright, chair of Cannabis Control Board, has said legal sales are scheduled to open “later this year,” New York has yet to begin the retail licensing process. That retail licensing process, she said during a board meeting on May 19, is scheduled to begin sometime “this summer.”

Even before licensing begins, though, some bold entrepreneurs have gone so far as to open storefronts selling marijuana.

Ben Gilbert/Insider

Empire Cannabis Clubs is “a full recreational shop with 30 different delta-9 THC strains of flower, distillate cartridges, and delta-9 THC edibles,” co-owner Jonathan Elfand told Insider last October.

Rather than calling itself a retail dispensary, Empire operates a “membership service in which the club will acquire cannabis products for its members,” according to its website. When you buy cannabis or various cannabis-based products, you’re paying for “the cost to facilitate the acquisition and transfer of said products,” the website says.

The startup now has two locations in Manhattan, in Chelsea and on the Lower East Side.

These businesses are not operating legally, according to NY state. “The unlicensed sale of cannabis remains illegal in New York State and the state will work with its local partners to enforce the law,”  Freeman Klopott,  communications director for the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, told Insider last October.

In February, the OCM announced that it had sent cease and desist letters to a variety of these operations, and said if they didn’t stop operating immediately they would, “risk the opportunity to get a license in the legal market,” and could face “substantial fines and possible criminal penalties.”

The OCM is expected to offer an update on retail licensing in the coming weeks.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.