Cannabis Activist Group Opens Upstate NY Chapter

Oct 10, 2016

The Cannabis and Hemp Association has opened a chapter upstate. Billing itself as New York City's leading voice for cannabis and hemp advocacy and industry, the group met last week to discuss the current state of the medical marijuana industry and its future possibilities.  The event marked the launch of the CHA Albany chapter.

The evening featured a lively discussion about the impact of new regulations to the Compassionate Care Act, a review of the first year of New York's medical cannabis industry, and a look toward its future. As of September 7, 627 New Yorkers were enrolled in the state Department of Health's medical marijuana program. Pamela Johnston with Electrum Partners says New York is behind the rest of the medical marijuana world, losing business to other states.  "Businesses won't come to New York and can't make money in New York in cannabis, and it's one of the reasons that the industry is suffering, because it's not attracting business, and you need a thriving infrastructure. A good example would be Nevada, for a 20,000 patient medical market, because Nevada's 'medical only' right now. They do have reciprocity for tourists, but Nevada had $400 million spent on infrastructure just for that 20,000 patient market."

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana programs. Johnston says education is critical to the success of New York's. Critics argue the Compassionate Care Act signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo is too restrictive and that the process for patients seeking access to medical marijuana is a difficult one.

Kenneth Weinberg is a registered medical marijuana doctor who believes the state will eventually catch up with the rest of the country.  "Look at the other states. They're making so much money when they've legalized it or made medical marijuana available. I don't know why Cuomo wouldn't ... you know there are so many jobs that could be produced by the growing, all of the different aspects of it. I don't get it."

Eileen Konieczny is President of the American Cannabis Nurses Association: she lobbied to get medical marijuana legislation passed in Connecticut and New York and sees physician education as New York's most pressing need.   "So if physicians understood the endocannabinoid system, which was only discovered in the early 1990s, I think that you would have more physicians that were willing to actually write recommendation for it because they would understand the science behind it."

Nearly 700 physicians have registered with the state to prescribe medical marijuana.

Fred Polsinelli is spokesman for PharmaCannis, whose PharmaCann LLC is one of five companies approved by New York to grow and sell medical marijuana.  "PharmaCann operates a 135,000-square foot greenhouse right now in Orange County in the town of Hamptonburgh. We're currently using 5 percent of that. We don't need more greenhouses in New York. We need more patient access and that's what this department is working on, we're all working together on it, and at the end of the day it really is all about the patients. But it's also an industry. And if the industry is not supported by positive economics there will be no industry."

Polsinelli sees medical marijuana as a sensible treatment for opioid addiction.   "We have such a heroin crisis in New York and such a dependency on these prescription pills that people don't need, and it's not good for them, and finally we now have a medical cannabis program that's gonna start to push that opioid dependency out the window. I really believe that. We're seeing it in other states. It's happening in other states, so it's not a coincidence.

CHA founder Scott Gianotti says changing attitudes toward marijuana have opened the door for the hemp industry's return to New York. 

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

"We have laws in place to now have a hemp industry. There's actually going to be an event on October 22nd where they're gonna be educating people exactly how to register to become a legal hemp grower here in New York state, so it's something that is happening right now. It doesn't have the sizzle of marijuana, because it's not drugs-involved, but it's an important program because New York used to be a very strong hemp-growing state. That's why we have towns in Long Island called Hempstead, Hemp Lake Park."