An historic crop is beginning to sprout in the Empire State. As New York inches closer to the launch of its adult-use cannabis market,...

An historic crop is beginning to sprout in the Empire State. As New York inches closer to the launch of its adult-use cannabis market, the state’s inaugural cultivators are readying the first batch.

A report from the Associated Press on Wednesday put a spotlight on some of New York’s first legal recreational cannabis growers, who were awarded cultivation licenses back in April.

The AP highlighted “growers like Frank Popolizio of Homestead Farms and Ranch, where a small crew north of Albany earlier this month dug out shallow holes for seedlings before packing them in by hand.”

“It is an opportunity. There’s obviously going to be a demand for it,” Popolizio told the Associated Press. “And, hopefully, it benefits the farmers. Been a long time since there’s been a real cash crop.”

Popolizio is a recipient of the first roughly 200 licenses awarded to cultivators for New York’s forthcoming recreational cannabis market.

The state legalized recreational cannabis for adults last year, when former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that ended the prohibition and paved the way for a regulated cannabis market that is expected to launch by the end of this year.

But under Cuomo, the new marijuana program was slow to take shape, with key regulatory positions going unfilled for months.

After Cuomo resigned as governor last August amid allegations of sexual misconduct, he was replaced by Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who made the launch of the adult-use cannabis program a priority. 

Within a month of taking office, Hochul completed a pair of appointments to the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, saying at the time that “New York’s cannabis industry has stalled for far too long.”

In April, the New York State Cannabis Control announced that it had approved the first 52 adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses, with the state’s established hemp farmers getting first dibs.

“New York’s farms have been the backbone of our state’s economy since before the American Revolution, and now, New York’s farms will be at the center of the most equitable cannabis industry in the nation,” Hochul said at the time. “I’m proud to announce the first adult-use cannabis cultivation licenses in the state, and I’m proud of the work the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board are doing to get adult-use cannabis sales up and running as fast as possible without compromising our mission to uplift communities and individuals most impacted by the past century of cannabis prohibition.”

Hochul’s office said that those farmers “must adhere to quality assurance, health, and safety requirements developed by the [Office of Cannabis Management],” including participation in “sustainability and equity mentorship programs that will help build the first generation of equity cannabis owners across the entire supply chain.”

In its report this week, the Associated Press noted that giving a “head start for hemp growers is an unusual way to gear up a marijuana market,” citing an expert who said that “states typically rely initially on their existing medical growers.”

“But New York’s move is a potential lifeline for farmers growing their crop for CBD during a slump in prices,” the Associated Press reported. “They have a chance to make much more money growing what is essentially the same plant, but with higher levels of THC — the compound that makes people feel high.”

As for the recreational dispensary licenses, the state said earlier this year that the first 100 of those will go to applicants with previous pot-related convictions, or family members of individuals with pot-related convictions.

The state’s Office of Cannabis management said that the initiative is “something that has not been done before.”

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