No holds barred at 4/20 cannabis industry meetup in Finger Lakes

NY Cannabis Insider is hosting a full-day conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albany on May 18. Buy tickets here.

At a lively panel discussion NY Cannabis Insider hosted Thursday, speakers discussed medical patient needs, troubling actions – and non-actions – by state agencies and a need for unity in the New York legal weed community.

NY Cannabis Insider held its 4/20 event at FingerLakes Cannabis Co. in Victor, which currently sells hemp-based products and locally sourced health and wellness products. After Victor Mayor Gary Hadden spoke about being one of the few villages in the region that opted into legal adult-use cannabis sales, NY Cannabis Insider Editor/Publisher Brad Racino began the freewheeling discussion featuring panelists:

During a discussion about patient access to legal cannabis in New York, Lawley talked about the difficulty she had accessing legal medical weed after a traumatic brain injury in 2016. Lawley, a Buffalo resident, said she spent years making the short drive over the Canadian border to access marijuana and learn about the plant.

NY Cannabis Insider, Victor, April 20, 2023

Panelists speak at NY Cannabis Insider’s industry meetup in Victor, NY, on April 20, 2023. From left to right: Sarah Stenuf, Nikki Lawley, Hal McCabe and Brad Racino.

“When I was in the early stages of this, we didn’t have many products,” Lawley said.

A major problem with New York’s medical program right now is high prices that make legal products out of reach financially for many patients. Lawley noted that when she bought a few 0.3-gram vape pens from a medical dispensary that day, she paid $35 for each of them.

“Being a medical patient in New York, it is not a patient-friendly state – a joint… costs $18, who can afford that?” Lawley said. “It’s no wonder why the illicit market has flourished and grown and continues to dominate our NYS medical cannabis program.”

When the talk turned to issues affecting New York cannabis businesses, Stenuf said she thinks a major problem is that entrepreneurs are being pitted against each other. Stenuf said that the state, at different times, has prioritized different social equity groups over others, which can create ill will.

NY Cannabis Insider, Victor, April 20, 2023

Attendees mingle at NY Cannabis Insider’s industry meetup at FingerLakes Cannabis Company on April 20, 2023.

“The problem right now is everybody … from the OCM to the politicians to the businesses … they want applicants to fail,” Stenuf said.

“They feed on separation and division: yes, the [legalization] bill will say ‘social equity’ and it will say ‘social justice,’ but only at certain times will they give a certain category a priority, and when you give a certain category a priority, you’re going to piss off the other categories.”

Stenuf also noted that cultivators have seriously discussed suing state regulators, as growers are currently sitting on millions of dollars of weed they’ve harvested but can’t sell because only a handful of dispensaries are currently open. If growers filed such a lawsuit, it’d follow one that the state’s medical cannabis companies filed last month, which argues the state Office of Cannabis Management was not authorized to create the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary license, and it violated the MRTA by allowing CAURD businesses to open ahead of others.

While there are some very legitimate reasons for Adult-Use Conditional Cultivation licensees to sue, Stenuf said, she doesn’t believe it’s the best move right now.

“It’s been brought up in discussion – I’m not going to lie – there’s a lot of lawsuits that are able to be had right now… and a lot of people talking about them” Stenuf said.

“Freezing up the program for somebody else so they can’t get a license; is it the best for everybody else, or is it the best for you?” she said. “Yes, I think farmers have a position to sue, but I would encourage them not to, because it would just hurt everybody right now.”

NY Cannabis Insider, Victor, April 20, 2023

Attendees mingle at NY Cannabis Insider’s industry meetup in Victor, NY, on April 20, 2023.

McCabe from CANY pointed out issues communicating with OCM officials, and noted that the agency’s executive director hasn’t met with leadership at CANY, the state’s largest cannabis business organization. He and Stenuf also criticized the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York for the group’s oversight of the CAURD program – and a $200 million public/private fund for which managers haven’t raised the $150 million from investors that they were expected to have by September.

McCabe – who questioned whether allowing DASNY President Reuben McDaniel to serve on the Cannabis Control Board presents a conflict of interest – said he and other CANY members have spoken with DASNY workers who have said fundraising efforts are nearly nonexistent, which runs counter to the agency’s claims.

He also said DASNY has created “unofficial no-fly zones” where they’re not allowing licensees to locate their stores because agency officials have a vision of creating large cannabis mega-stores in some areas of the state.

Additionally, the interest rate DASNY is charging to CAURD licensees who participate in the loan/buildout program is about 10%, which McCabe said is a high interest rate for such a program.

“We’re supposed to be helping these social justice folks, how is charging them 10% interest helping them?” McCabe said. “What are they, Sallie Mae?”

Toward the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked panelists about possible solutions to the multiple problems facing cannabis business owners. Stenuf replied that unity among cannabis operators can help a lot.

“A lot of us are coming together as a community,” Stenuf said. “I love this community because of that.”

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