Hepworth Farms, one of New York's struggling marijuana farms, urges Albany to allow pot sales at farmers' markets

NY officials want to allow marijuana sales at farmers markets, festivals

MILTON, N.Y. -- New York's Office of Cannabis Management wants to allow sales of marijuana products at farmers' markets and festivals, a stop-gap measure intended to help licensed growers who are struggling to make ends meet. 

To plant, or not to plant? That is the million-dollar question for 200 New York marijuana farmers, including Hepworth Farms on the banks of the Hudson River in Ulster County

"There are farmers that hold licenses that are questioning whether they can or cannot because they didn't sell last year's crop," said Amy Hepworth, of the 105-year-old farm. "We have finished product that's ready for distribution."

While much of last year's marijuana is in storage, farmers worry it will eventually be too old to sell.

In the greenhouse, seedlings will be ready for planting in July - a financial risk when they haven't sold what they've already produced. 

"Everyone is anxious. Why wouldn't you be anxious planting something and the market capacity is not there on a huge scale so you can't capitalize," said Michael Hart. 

When Hepworth planted its first crop last summer, there was every expectation that New York would have between 40 and 70 retail marijuana stores licensed and opened by this summer. 

Instead, less than 12 are fully operational, and New York farmers are sitting on 300,000 lbs. of unsold marijuana. 

"Put all of our capital into growing the crop, and we are having a hard time bringing in revenue from it. So we are suffering immeasurable," said Hepworth. 

New York's retail licensing process has proved painfully cumbersome.

Licensed farmers, who cannot distribute through any of the hundreds of illegal marijuana shops that have opened, are urging Albany to quickly develop a plan to allow them to sell marijuana at farmers' markets and festivals. 

"It's the better alternative to the illegal bodegas, because it keeps the cultivators in the game that put their skin in the game," said Jason Minard, general counsel to Hepworth Farms. "But for the time being, we need an immediate emergency relief farmers' market initiative to allow the farmer to survive this season." 

New York's Cannabis Control Board is expected to discuss marijuana sales at farmers' markets when it meets in New York City next week. 

It's a time of high anxiety for those growing a product intended to help users chill. 

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