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NYSAC Hosts Marijuana Panel For County Delegates

NYSAC Pot Panel
Jesse King
Benjamin Banks-Dobson of Hudson Hemp presents to New York county delegates at NYSAC's "Making Marijuana Legal In New York State" panel.

As New York state lawmakers consider legalizing recreational marijuana, county delegates gathered in Albany Tuesday to discuss the challenges and opportunities legal pot may bring.

A New York State Association of Counties panel included representatives from a marijuana dispensary and a hemp farm, and took a look at what New York can learn from the policies of marijuana-friendly states like Massachusetts. New York lawmakers are considering Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize and tax recreational marijuana for those 21 and older.

Christine DeLarosa is the CEO and co-owner of The People’s Dispensary in Oakland and Portland. She was introduced to the cannabis industry after a near-fatal pulmonary embolism and lupus diagnosis in 2010. DeLarosa says she spent years treating her pain with 11 synthetic drugs and opioids, and credits CBD as a successful medical alternative.

"I started to do a huge regimen of CBD. It took me about nine months: six months to get off all of the 11 pills, and nine months to get off the infusions every month," DeLarosa says. "But since September of 2015, I've not taken a single synthetic drug for my lupus." 

CBD is a separate component of cannabis from the psychoactive THC element in marijuana, and therefore does not give users a “high.” But DeLarosa urges delegates to see adult use marijuana as a logical extension of medical marijuana, benefitting those suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. 

"Even people who think they're doing adult use — they're actually trying to treat something. And I find that to be 95 percent of my clients," she says. "Even people who are just coming in, who don't think about what's happening in their personal world, and where they need this plant." 

Cheryl Sbarra of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards shared her state’s experience since recreational pot’s 2016 legalization. So far, Massachusetts has nine operating marijuana retailers, two labs, four manufacturers, and four cultivators — and many localities are working to establish more dispensaries.

"The first week, $20.4 million was received from these retailers. And it goes up several hundred thousand every week," Sbarra says. "So the sales are substantial." 

Sbarra notes the importance of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission in implementing the policy, specifically its diverse advisory board. It includes experts in minority business development, impairment detection and evaluation, social justice, and more. 

"There was clearly an attempt to be inclusive in this new enterprise in Massachusetts," Sbarra notes. 

But Sbarra admits the majority of retail licenses in Massachusetts do not belong to minority businesses. Additionally, marijuana use in public is still illegal, which can negatively affect those in public housing or multi-unit buildings.

She advised lawmakers and the CCC to closely monitor agreements between marijuana establishments and municipalities to better support local businesses.

“This impact fee is supposed to be no more than three percent of the gross sales," says Sbarra. "However, here’s where we see big cannabis coming in and offering way more than three percent to cities or towns, which is putting small cannabis in a difficult situation.”

Benjamin Banks-Dobson of Hudson Hemp has been producing CBD hemp in New York state for the past two years, and provided an agricultural perspective on the marijuana industry. He emphasized that cannabis is actually most valuable when it is dried – not when it’s out in the fields — and urged counties to keep the security needs of cannabis storehouses in mind.

"So as counties, I think it's very important to understand where the money sits. It's like the public is walking around with some money in our wallet, but the bank vault is what you're really protecting," Banks-Dobson says. "And its the similar concept in cannabis, in CBD – whether it's marijuana or CBD, the most valuable location to protect is where the finished good is stored." 

Banks-Dobson also says pushback and more restrictive federal regulations can threaten operating CBD businesses. For example, the FDA has banned the interstate commerce of foods and drinks containing CBD, and is moving toward an outright ban on CBD as a dietary supplement.

"Some states, such as California, are already moving CBD into their state-regulated cannabis programs," he notes. "So alongside THC – not as highly regulated, because it's not psychoactive – but they're protecting it with their own state laws." 

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast, "A New York Minute In History."
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