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For some, it’s time to inhale

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By DIANE VALDEN

Greenhouse full of cannabis at Empire Farm. Photo contributed

COPAKE—If you have been wondering when you would be able to buy cannabis products locally—wonder no more. You may soon get your chance at an upcoming Cannabis Growers Showcase scheduled to open August 17.

At a special meeting August 1, the Town Board gave unanimous approval for a Cannabis Growers Showcase (CGS) to organizer Hempire Inc., DBA Empire Farm 1830. The Empire Farm CGS, pending approval by the state, will take place at Empire Farm, 548 Empire Road in Copake Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, August 17 through December 31 from noon to 8 p.m. all days.

Town Attorney Jonathon Tingley began the discussion by reviewing the new law recently put forth by the State Office of Cannabis Management. The state legalized marijuana for adult recreational use back in September 2021, but the state’s roll out of procedures/guidelines for the selling and buying of cannabis products has lagged behind the licensing and actual growing of the plant.

Under state regulations the cannabis retail dispensary licenses have not been issued quickly enough to allow for the cannabis that has already been grown by licensed growers to be sold to consumers. Cannabis has a shelf life, and growers are feeling some urgency because a cannabis backlog has been created by the lack of enough retail dispensaries to get their products out to the market, Mr. Tingley explained.

To remedy the situation, the state has now allowed for Conditional Adult Use (CAU) cultivators and processors to team up along with a retail dispensary licensee to have a temporary (through January 1, 2024) “place to sell the product that’s been grown and processed to get out to market before it goes bad,” the attorney said.

He mentioned accompanying requirements that don’t matter from the town’s perspective because they fall under state regulation and enforcement. One such requirement he spoke about is there has to be at least three cultivator licensees teaming up with one retail dispensary. There can be more of both, but the bottom line is they band together and sell the products at retail as if it were a retail dispensary. But it’s only for a temporary period of time and no onsite consumption is allowed at the showcases.

CGSs can be in a brick and mortar structure, at a farmers’ market, at a fair or an outdoor booth, he said. While the town is not involved in regulating or issuing a permit for the event, in order for the event to happen, the applicant needs a municipal letter of approval to submit to the Office of Cannabis Management in its event application.

According to Mr. Tingley, the town has to decide if the venue chosen by the applicant has sufficient ingress and egress, sufficient parking and whether traffic congestion or crowd control will be problems.

Present and seeking the approval letter from the town were FarmOn! Founder and Board Chair Tessa Edick Williams and FarmOn! Board of Directors Member Matthew Kelleher.

FarmOn! Foundation is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization and public charity with the mission to inspire, educate and prepare youth for successful careers in sustainable farming. (farmon.org/foundation/). It is headquartered at historic Empire Farm, a 220-acre working farm.

Ms. Williams said the event is an opportunity to bring revenue to the “work we do” and to the town for its projects such as rapid care.

Supervisor Jeanne Mettler asked Ms. Williams to say exactly how she will deal with the traffic, parking, crowd control should 400 people show up on opening day of the showcase.

Ms. Williams listed signage, staffing, multiple entrances and exits, electricity, internet, security in terms of people there and recorded units that are monitored and paid for.

She said one barn on the farm will be set up with 8 X 8-foot spaces for multiple farmers to sell their wares. Customers will come in one way, park their cars monitored by people and cameras. They would be escorted to the shopping area, go back to their cars and exit a different way.

Ms. Williams maintained the farm has parking spaces for 700 cars and when asked, she specifically described how many cars could go in various areas. She said the showcase will be in a red barn at the center of the property which has water, electricity and bathrooms. Questioned by Councilmember Stosh Gansowski about how many and what other growers will be there, Ms. Williams said the other growers will not be local, but come from Jefferson County where she grew up.

Ms. Williams said she has eight employees now onsite on any given Saturday for their farmers’ market which is visited by 100 people. She said if the number of visitors is higher she has a reserve of 25 staffers to call on. Ms. Williams told the board she is willing to call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to see if she can pay for a deputy to be present on opening day, but whenever she has called them in the past, they have told her they don’t have the staff to accommodate her.

Both Ms. Williams and Supervisor Mettler said they have not heard of any other showcase of this kind taking place anywhere in Columbia County. All types of cannabis products will be sold at the event. Sales are expected to be cash only.

Asked by Planning Board Chair Bob Haight about what recourse the town has in the event the showcase “goes sideways,” Mr. Tingley said he is not sure the town can stop the event once the state has given the go-ahead. He suggested the board incorporate conditions into the approval letter. He said he believes since there is no onsite consumption, it is safe to assume that people will spend a little bit of time there and then leave. He said, “It’s not a festival.”

Councilmember Richard Wolf praised Ms. Williams for being a successful “holder-of-large events” (500 people fundraisers) for many years and said he expects that as the number of people who come to the showcase increase because it is well run, Ms. Williams will take the proper steps to handle the situation.

Ms. Williams said that unlike people who come to town for personal gain, in her cannabis for charity campaign 100% of the money will go directly to the FarmOn! 501(C)(3) non-profit to support programming. Mr. Kelleher noted that there are only 21 dispensaries statewide while 200 farmers are suffering financially with the inability to sell their products

The annual cannabis revenue projection mentioned by Ms. Williams was $20 million. The town is expected to receive three percent of whatever revenue is brought in by this temporary showcase.

Ms. Mettler then introduced and the board unanimously passed a motion “to grant municipal approval of the request by Hempire Inc. dba Empire Farm 1830 to conduct a Cannabis Growers Showcase at 548 Empire Road … upon issuance of approval by the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, and to authorize the Supervisor to execute a municipal letter of approval for such application.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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