ALBANY — State regulators this week announced they had licensed the first 15 companies to produce the edibles and other marijuana-derived products that will be sold by cannabis dispensaries when they open for sales.
There still is no exact target date for the start of legal retail sales of marijuana and its extracts for recreational use by adults.
The state Office of Cannabis Management is crafting the regulatory framework for the new cannabis market, and simultaneously trying to make it safe, have a positive economic impact, and provide social justice and equity for communities that for decades bore the brunt of marijuana law enforcement efforts.
But the state still expects the first dispensaries to be open by the end of this year.
To that end, it has issued licenses to 242 cultivators as of Monday. The next steps in the supply chain are processors, the first 15 of which OCM licensed Monday; quality-control test labs, which will be able to apply for licenses soon; and retail dispensaries themselves.
Five of the first 15 processor licenses were issued in or near the Capital Region: All In One Extracting & Product Manufacturing LLC in Schenectady County; Jenny’s Baked at Home Company LLC of Columbia County; Lunulata LLC and Phil Spinelli Farrier Service LLC in Albany County; and Veterans Holdings Inc. in Fulton County.
Veterans Holdings is a sister company to Veterans Hemp Market in Broadalbin.
Owner/founder/CEO Jason Ambrosino said it’s a natural move for his business, which was founded to market the therapeutic qualities of cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound in cannabis plants that does not produce the high of tetrahydrocannabinol.
(All 15 of the processor licenses announced Monday went to companies that already held cannabinoid hemp processor licenses.)
Ambrosino said the venture was rooted in his own problems several years ago, when an explosion in a combat zone led to the narrowing of the spinal column in his upper back and lower neck, with resulting nerve inflammation in his arms and legs.
The pain got so bad and the drugs treating it were so strong that he wasn’t functional some days. The Army discharged him in 2014.
“Cannabis could have been the solution for all of that,” Ambrosino said.
Back in civilian life after 10 years in uniform, he looked at cannabis extracts as an alternative treatment. The results were immediate, and eventually led him to the business that he operates today.
“Initially, the idea was I was going to start Veterans Hemp Market with some of my buddies,” Ambrosino said. Instead, he runs it with his wife, Sonja, who is its chief operating officer.
The company began CBD production and online sales in 2019, then opened its retail store in 2020, initially selling COVID protective gear rather than CBD.
Ambrosino said he’s looking forward to the next step, selling adult recreational cannabis, but doesn’t know the exact path forward yet.
The state regulatory process is moving slowly, he said, and he can’t invest thousands of dollars in packaging, branding and marketing until the state regulations for these things are complete.
Farmers are in a difficult position without a full plan in place for selling the harvest, Ambrosino said. It’s less difficult for processors like him, he said, because he is working with distillates of cannabis, not the whole flower.
“When you break it all down, we are cannabinoid compounders,” he said.
As for the goals the state has in mind with its slow, steady process to set up the market — social equity, a mentoring system, environmental sustainability, union labor — Ambrosino is supportive.
“I think those are great goals. I appreciate what New York state is doing, they are trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Some people have a sense that the state is designing an airplane after takeoff.
If the social equity component of the cannabis program has a racial component, Ambrosino said, how easy will that be to satisfy in a county that’s 95% white?
(The program is being designed and details will be available in the autumn, according to the OCM.)
There’s also the economics of the program.
The risk of adding too many secondary focus points to the recreational cannabis market and then heavily taxing it, is that the retail cost of products becomes prohibitively high.
“That’s my concern with it,” Ambrosino said.