New York is finally kicking off their recreational cannabis sales, after years of back-and-forth and push back against antiquated and racist drug laws. Now, the industry is up and running with some of the first 203 hemp growers given recreational licenses starting up their grows. And plot twist: the first of these are outdoors. 

Not exactly what you’d expect for New York, but weather-wise, it’s prime season. The indoor growers are expected to join in soon, but for now growers like Frank Popolizio of Homestead Farms and Ranch are getting started with their outdoor crops. 

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

The outdoor growers are legally allowed to cultivate because of their “conditional cultivator” licenses, which let them grow up to an acre of cannabis outdoors. They are also allowed to grow some of their crops in greenhouses. The license is good for two years, and they can sell their cannabis to legal dispensaries. 

Including these small farmers and growers is helping the state stick to creating a diverse and equitable cannabis industry. Paired with this move, the first licenses to sell cannabis in the state will go to folks with weed convictions and their relatives. 

“There’s a market that we’re building for small players, for big players, for medium-sized players, for family businesses, for big corporations as well,” says Chris Alexander, executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. “We do think it will be sufficient to provide that initial supply to our dispensary locations that we get up and running.” 

Most of the cannabis currently being grown in greenhouses and outdoors will be turned into products like edibles and vapes, but some will be sold as smokable flower. While outdoor grown cannabis can sometimes contain less THC than indoor-grown plants, growing outdoors also definitely has its perks. 

“It’s called sun-grown marijuana,” says grower Moke Mokotoff of Claverack Creek Farm in the Hudson Valley. “And a lot of aficionados just like the way it smokes better.”

Additionally, growing cannabis outside, under the sun, also takes less energy than electricity-heavy indoor grows, which makes it appealing for many who are more environmentally-conscious. It also means that many times, cannabis can be sold at lower prices. 

However, there is also another setback: weed thieves. Because of this, the outdoor grows in New York are currently surrounded by electric fences. Most of the fences also have motion detectors, cameras, and extra security just in case. 

For now, the industry is off to a somewhat slow start thanks to these outdoor grows. The big boost in production will come from indoor growers, especially those that are already growing indoor medical cannabis. More licenses are pending, and there will be more licenses offered in early 2023. There are many already poised and ready to take advantage of this. 

One of these major players will be Green Thumb Industries, a company originally based in Chicago. They are building a facility that will take up almost 4.5 acres in a former prison. It will produce a wide array of products and serve a lot of the state, making this the 15th state the company is in. 

“New Yorkers have been watching the industry flourish from the sidelines,” CEO Ben Kovler said, “and have high expectations for the forthcoming adult-use market.”

It remains to be seen how much the industry will prioritize these small farmers and disadvantaged distributors, and how much will be taken over by these small companies, but at least for now, outdoor hemp growers are getting somewhat of a leg up. 

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