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December 10, 2022 - 12:51am
posted by Press Release in empire hemp, batavia, Business, cannabis, news.

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Press release:

This week, the Cannabis Association of New York (CANY) attended a special, behind-the-scenes tour of Empire Hemp Co.’s manufacturing facility with Chris Vandusen, CEO, and Shelly Wolanske, COO. 

CANY is the largest cannabis association in NY – with hundreds of members stretched across the supply chain from seed-to-sale and in every region of the state. They work to engage with the various communities of interest within the NY cannabis economy. Since their founding in 2019, they’ve helped draft multiple laws and countless regulations to build a cannabis industry that benefits small and midscale NYS businesses first.

As one of the first licensed cultivators and processors in the state, the team at Empire was thrilled to showcase their Adult-use THC line and all that goes into manufacturing and packaging these products with a strong focus on safety, compliance, and sustainability. One member noted, “The facility held much-advanced equipment, and we were very impressed with the cleanliness and documentation taken.”

Empire Hemp Co., located in Batavia been the go-to source for hemp-derived products for several years. With a strong devotion to all New York State-grown, pesticide-free hemp, their retail location on Main Street in Batavia quickly became the trusted source for Cannabidiol (CBD) tinctures, gummies, and their best-seller, “The Balm.” Luxury lotions and bath products - all infused with the therapeutic plant - line the walls of the boutique shop. 

Branching out into the THC world was a natural move for the company. Countless hours of research, paperwork, and manpower have gone into ensuring the entire process is handled in a legal and ethical manner. Flowers, pre-rolls, vape carts, and edibles will all be available to customers through legal, licensed dispensaries as they begin to open throughout the state. 

To learn more about Empire Hemp Co., visit EmpireHempCo.com or stop into their retail location at 204 East Main St. in Batavia.

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October 4, 2022 - 9:51pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Empire Hemp Company, batavia, cannabis, notify.

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He kind of hates to admit it, but the doom of COVID for most businesses was actually a boon for Empire Hemp Company, Chris Van Dusen says.

“Back then we had hired some employees, and we had COVID hit. So we did a walk-up window for COVID. And it was taking off. So we decided, to survive here we were going to open a store,” said Van Dusen, company founder and CEO. “So we had to let the guys go. And that's how we opened the store. So the store really took off … it was just the two of us doing everything.”

His other half, wife Shelly Wolanske, has been as fully immersed in the business as he has, first with a site on Swan Street in 2019, and a downtown store in April 2020. Van Dusen recently heard of a convenience store about to open with plans for selling cannabis products, and he wanted to clarify how one becomes a legal entity in the ever-growing field of cannabis establishments.

It’s not as easy as hanging up a sign, he said.

First, there’s an official Office of Cannabis Management that operates through the New York State Department of Labor. It regulates everything. That means applications, certifications, inspections, and many administrative hoops to jump through in order to be above board, he and Shelly said.

According to cannabis.ny.gov, the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) is charged with issuing licenses for businesses to participate in New York’s adult-use, medical, and cannabinoid hemp industries. The OCM is developing regulations that will outline how a person or business can apply for and receive a license in the new adult-use cannabis industry.

The OCM will promote social and economic equity for applicants who have been harmed by the prohibition of cannabis for adult-use licenses, establishing a goal of awarding 50 percent of licenses to social and economic equity applicants, the site states.

Due to the nature of cannabis — more loosely known as marijuana, pot, weed — it has been tough going with those hoops, especially with banks and credit card companies that want no part of the business, Van Dusen said. That has made it tough to get loans and revert to a cash-only operation for sales, they said. And at the opposite end, there are the certified growers.

“We currently are working with, right around 20 growers right now. So we need this. They're calling us every day ever since we got the conditional licensing process, we're on the list,” he said. “There's people who know what they're doing. There's people who don't know what they're doing. So we need to secure our supply in the supply chain to make sure that we can get products to the dispensaries when they are ready to open at the end of the year.”

What? Empire Hemp is not a dispensary? Nope. It is the top-tier guy who does all of those applications to be able to buy, process and then dispense products. The store carries CBD products, made by the extraction of oil from the cannabis plants. As for straight-up cannabis, that will get shipped to a certified dispensary for retail sale.

That extract was priced at $4,500 a kilo in September 2019, and dropped to $500 a kilo by November of that year, he said.

“So our whole business model just went, and then the price just dropped because the supply became so huge because the whole country was doing it,” he said.

“COVID actually was a blessing for us. We would be out of business, because it got us through with those PPP loans to bridge that gap because that's when we said we're either gonna go out of business or we need to open a store, because we need cash, we need to get it; our online sales have dropped dramatically” he said. “We were doing really well. But because of the credit card processing getting canceled… all of our ranking on Google dropped and we've never been able to recover.”

They built the store at 204 East Main St., Batavia, on a “shoestring budget,” and said it’s been well received so far. There are at least 50 different types of CBD oils, lotions, balms and scrubs that have garnered loyal customers with praise for the pain-relief properties, Wolankse said.

So anyone can sell these products? No.

“We have a CBD retail license, and we have a manufacturing processing license so we can sell them. There's a lot of people that carry CBD products and they don't have a retail license. I don't even know if they know they need a retail license,” Wolanske said.

Merchants that are selling cannabis products without the proper license are not registered with the state, and therefore most likely bypassing sales tax payments. The state will be cracking down on these entities to ensure that only law-abiding — and tax-paying — businesses are operating, he said.

What type of licensing do you have?

"Okay, so the first one we got was a retail license for CBD, but that one is for the adult-use cannabis. We got the adult-use cannabis processing and manufacturing license, and then there's the adult use cultivation license," he said. "So we are now a recreational marijuana cultivator as well as processor so we can grow, process, manufacture, and distribute,” Van Dusen said.

Everyone, from the growers to the Empire Hemp facilities, must be inspected for proper documentation, cleanliness, packaging, and hygiene practices, he said. Empire Hemp’s wholesale license allows them to sell products to “the dispensaries when they open up the legal ones,” he said.

He is waiting for more than 800 dispensary applicants to be reviewed and chosen by the state for the first legal dispensary license. Once selected, those applicants will get a choice of a few locations to set up shop. They won’t be able to dictate where their dispensary will be, he said.

For example, an applicant in Erie County may have a choice of being in Batavia or Brockport, but not necessarily in his/her hometown location. The upside is that the designated site will be a turnkey operation, ready to open for business, Van Dusen said.

Working the steps

The state took steps to first license growers, then the processors and manufacturers, and now the final point of retail sale — dispensaries. He, his wife and his silent partner cannot turn their store into a dispensary, since they are the processor, manufacturer and distributor. But they can have someone else come in and, as a legally chosen dispensary, sell cannabis products in the future, he said.

But what about all of these small shops selling cannabis, usually under the guise of selling a sticker or T-shirt that includes up to 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana?

They’re not legal, Van Dusen said. They haven’t jumped through the hoops of applications, certifications and inspections of the product and sales site. Furthermore, the state has not even selected and announced the legal ones yet.

His frustration is not just sour grapes that others are opening more quickly and with less expense, he said, but also about taking the proper steps to sell a safe, quality product as Empire Hemp has done these last three years.

“And consistent products, you know you're getting the same product each time, you're getting a safe product,” he said. “And the growers, before we even get their cannabis, they've got to go through a line of testing. You want to make sure that their cannabis is secure. We can’t even receive it unless it has passed.”

“It's like when I see that it's really upsetting because we've played by the rules, we do everything we're supposed to do to be complicit and compliant with the law, and then these guys just come in and open up the stores like they're gonna make tons of money,” Van Dusen said. “I think it's had an impact on our retail store.”

“So people are trying to do it the right way, they're trying to follow what New York State has laid out. And then you have this whole other group of people that are just doing like this wild, wild west, and they're just doing whatever they want to … I mean, the milligrams in some of these products. I'm surprised these people aren't in the hospital,” he said.

State cannabis law requires that individual packages contain a maximum amount of product, such as 100 milligrams per package. Some stores are selling 500-milligram packages since they’re not inspected, he said.

“These are messing people up, like people don't know what they're getting into,” he said.

Another issue is the packaging, he said. There are packages out there that are clear, which allows UV rays in that can alter the product, versus Empire Hemp’s opaque packaging with nitrogen injected inside to keep the product fresh — for more than a year, he said.

As for smoke shops on the nearby Reservation, those business owners don’t have to legally abide by the same protocols as other New York State owners have to, similar to the sale of tobacco and gasoline products.

Van Dusen said that selling cannabis is not much different than alcohol. Both are legal in the state, however, you can’t just go and open up a shop to sell alcohol. Same with cannabis. And he wants the public to be aware of illegal operations. He visited a shop in Batavia and bought a package of cannabis quite easily, he said. However, he doesn't know where the product was grown and how it was processed, packaged and distributed. It did only contain 1/8 of an ounce. 

“The products that you buy at these illicit smoke shops that are selling what they think is ‘legal cannabis,’ are not,” he said. “Legal dispensaries will be opening by the end of the year, and keep your eye out for Empire Hemp products.”

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Top Photo: Chris Van Dusen and wife Shelly Wolanske, owners of Empire Hemp Company in Batavia, talk about the legal requirements for being officially involved in the cannabis industry; Chris shows a package of product he bought locally from what he believes is an illegal dispensary, since the state has not announced the chosen applicants yet. Photos by Joanne Beck.

November 17, 2021 - 10:57pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, batavia, Batavia Town Board, cannabis, public hearing.

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Kelly March is a mother of three teenagers, a local business owner, and someone who believes in following state mandates. 

The Batavia resident is also a patient advocate and cannabis ambassador who encouraged Batavia Town Council members Wednesday to opt into allowing cannabis retail dispensaries.

"When you opt out, you’re not making it safer; you’re giving the legacy market license to flourish,” March said during a public hearing about proposed cannabis legislation that would allow dispensaries and on-site consumption of the product. 

March was one of two speakers and about a half dozen quiet supporters at Batavia Town Hall. She supports the reformed marijuana laws that would ensure safe, high quality cannabis in this area, she said. 

Otherwise, by opting out of the move, Town Council members are side-stepping legal ways to provide and sell marijuana, she said, and opening up opportunities for those that sell on the “legacy market.” Legacy is the more acceptable term nowadays for the previously used phrase “black” market, she said. 

“By banning the legalized market, it will increase use by the youth,” she said. “Batavia is a community rooted in farming. We have cannabis now … We want the right to be able to pursue our own business, just like distilleries in the area.”

March foresees craft cannabis products available, just as craft beer, wine and liquors have become popular. Aside from the business end of the issue, she also spoke of the Compassionate Care Act, which has gradually been adopting less restrictive policies so that patients have an easier way to access medical marijuana. Right now patients have had to deal with “a plethora of issues,” she said, including affordability and access due to dispensaries being at greater distances.

A medical card-carrying patient herself, March knows only too well the hassle of driving two hours to obtain relief through cannabis treatment, she said. Having to figure out what to do with one’s children while visiting a dispensary only compounds the problem, she said. 

March founded her business, Genesee Cannabis Club, in 2018. It provides educational programs for women to empower them as part of the work force, she said. There is no down side to allowing for dispensaries locally, she said. 

“I urge you to please think about it,” she said. 

Although Penelope Hamilton Crescibene is not a recreational cannabis user and was once “petrified” of all the pitfalls she heard about marijuana, she has become a vocal advocate of its use. Batavia was her sixth board visit to address issues of opting out of cannabis dispensaries, she said. 

“People are afraid of this change. The old fear-mongering is alive and well,” she said to The Batavian. “I get calls all day long from people needing help." 

Crescibene was diagnosed years ago with rheumatoid arthritis and the auto-immune disease of Sjögren’s syndrome. Once on heavy loads of prescription opioids to lessen the pain, she eventually turned to cannabis. Within 30 days she was off all opioid drugs, she said. 

“I learned all about the science. I learned about this plant,” she said during the hearing. 

The East Pembroke resident is director of community engagement for The Cannabis Community, which shares information through “education, awareness and access.” She is also a medical adviser for Empire State’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, and wants to help inform individuals and groups about this topic.

There have already been cannabis sales locally, she said, and people are driving on the roads.

“We already know people are using this,” she said. “If it was legal, we would be able to grow it like apples. If you give the option of opting out, you are saying ‘you’re welcome to stay and continue your illicit sales.’  You’re also opting out of taxes.”

She urged the board to help address the stigma associated with who uses marijuana: the majority of people are patients medicating their health conditions, she said, versus the stereotypical notion that minorities are using it more heavily than other populations. 

“Let’s start working together and start educating,” she said.

During a previous meeting, Batavia Town Board voted to have the public hearing to obtain community member feedback on the resolution. One option is to enable the municipality to opt out of allowing cannabis retail dispensaries and on-site consumption sites through New York’s Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.

Supervisor Gregory Post had said he didn’t think the town had enough information from New York State to “enter into something that we could never get out of.” He suggested that the town take more time in making an affirmative decision. The board can always opt in at a later time, he said, once more details are available. Post had also expressed concern regarding the vote of five board members, citing that it probably “isn’t a clear and transparent representation of the whole community.”

The board will vote on the resolution at a future meeting. 

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Photo above: Penelope Hamilton Crescibene speaks during a Batavia Town Board public hearing to opt in or out of cannabis dispensaries.

Advocates Kelly March of Batavia and Penelope Hamilton Crescibene of East Pembroke advocate for allowing cannabis dispensaries and on-site consumption, per the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act in New York. 

Batavia Town Board receives feedback about its future vote on cannabis dispensaries during a public hearing Wednesday evening at Batavia Town Hall. 

Photos by Howard Owens. 

August 7, 2020 - 1:23pm

From Sen. Charles Schumer:

After successfully pushing for an extended comment period to allow Upstate New York hemp farmers to share their concerns with the final rule, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay the issuance of a U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program final rule until 2022.

This will allow hemp growers and producers across the country and in Upstate New York to continue to operate under the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program regulations until that time. Schumer said with the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic across all sectors, implementing additional regulations would crush the budding hemp industry.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in Upstate New York, the feds must do everything they can to nurture its potential," Schumer said. "Regulating this rapidly emerging industry is a must, but the timing of new regulations is important and the current economic crisis must be considered.

"That’s why today I’m urging USDA to delay their issuance of a final rule until 2022 so the hemp industry across the country and in Upstate New York has a chance to grow and create good-paying jobs at a time when jobs are needed the most. Delaying new regulations will help pull New York along in the recovery process as the nation deals with the impacts of the pandemic.”

Allan Gandelman, president of New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association said, “There are over 700 registered hemp farmers across New York who would be negatively affected by the USDA's Interim Final Rule on hemp. The costs and bureaucracy of implementing the new rules as written create unnecessary financial burdens on farmers and our state agencies.

"The existing hemp pilot program has been sufficient in making sure farmers are complaint with all testing and public safety protocols. We would like to see the pilot program extended until 2022 and the USDA modify the program to let hemp become a widespread agricultural commodity like Congress intended by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Schumer explained, prior to the pandemic, the industrial hemp industry had begun to show significant growth in New York, adding a considerable number of good-paying jobs and bringing in significant revenue to the state, making it an indispensable crop in New York’s agricultural future.

Operating under the full benefits of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp farmers have reported difficulty integrating the Interim Final Rules into their operations, Specifically, Schumer said, the cost of complying with the Rules has proven to be suffocating for the emerging industry.

Compliance costs for reporting alone would be $17,363.40 according to USDA calculations, and testing would add more than $700 per sample.

The senator said these costs are simply too high for the budding industry to shoulder at a time when New York and the entire country is experiencing an economic crisis. Additionally, Schumer noted, implementing the Interim Final Rules now, also requires states to alter their Pilot Program budgets to meet standards, something which states slammed with COVID-related issues simply cannot spare the time and resources for.

Schumer also pointed out in light of COVID concerns, the timing and testing outlined in the Interim Final Rules would likely push farmers to rush harvests and increase the number of people working in facilities at once, leading to higher risk of COVID transmission among workers.

The senator says that delaying implementation until January 2022 and allowing states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill will address these issues, protecting both the hemp industry in New York and farm workers from potential COVID spread.

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