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Law that creates conditional license to grow cannabis is 'fantastic' news, says co-owner of Empire Hemp Co.

By Mike Pettinella

A new law that creates a Conditional Adult-use Cannabis Cultivator license in New York represents a high note for private businesses, including Empire Hemp Co. in Batavia, that have found their niche within the guidelines of the state’s Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.

Late last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul put her name on legislation that now permits hemp farmers in the state to apply for a conditional license to grow cannabis during the 2022 season for the approaching adult-use retail market.

Chris Van Dusen, who, along with Shelley Wolanske, owns Empire Hemp, called the recent development “fantastic news for us.”

Empire Hemp operates in two locations in the city: a processing facility on Swan Street and a retail store at 204 East Main St.

According to information from Hochul’s office, under the law, conditionally licensed cannabis farmers must meet certain requirements, including safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices; participation in a social equity mentorship program, and engagement in a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization.

Van Dusen (pictured at right) said Empire Hemp is in a position to benefit from the legislation.

“We're eligible both on the growing side and the processing side because there's also a provisional processing license, and we're one of 17 in the state that's eligible for processing,” he told The Batavian on Monday. “And we're one of less than 200 that are eligible for the growing side because we did grow two seasons in a row. That’s just one of the prerequisites for that.”

The law carries several requirements, including one that allows hemp growers that have grown in the past two or more years to plant one acre of high THC cannabis for recreational uses.

Van Dusen said his company, after harvest, “will take that cannabis, that flower, and bring it to our facility, and turn it into a host of products, whether it's pre-rolled cigarettes, vape cartridges, pre-packaged smokable flower as well as edibles, namely gummies. That’s what we’re going to be focused on; those are going to be our top four products.”

He also said he will incorporate the cannabis into topicals and other products that Empire Hemp sells on the CBD side of things. Currently, state law prohibits Empire Hemp, as a grower or processor, from having any financial interest in a dispensary.

Batavia’s City Council previously voted to opt in to the MRTA to host cannabis dispensaries, seeking to capitalize on the tax revenue associated with retail sales.

Empire Hemp is a CBD dispensary, Van Dusen said.

“We sell all the products that we make in our facility as far as therapeutic CBD oils and topicals, as well as skincare and self-care products. And we do sell some smokable hemp,” he said, adding that sales have been robust and that he and Wolanske are prepared to add employees and ramp up production as a result of the new law.

When asked if he saw any downside or “unintended consequences” from the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, he said that he believes that some smoke shops are selling marijuana without a license, looking to avoid paying taxes to the state.

“It’s something that needs to be talked about even if people just think it's no big deal,” he said. “I think it is a big deal because we want to play by the rules and we want to be part of the program that they're putting together and be successful at that. These guys that are doing it (illegally) are just going to make quick short term gains.”

Van Dusen said he knows that the state’s Office of Cannabis Management has been sending out cease-and-desist letters to shops that they suspect are operating outside of the law.

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