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New York backpedals on proposal to sell marijuana at farmers markets

 A brick downtown street with customers buying items from tents on each side.
John Smith
Customers visit vendors at the Syracuse's downtown farmer's market.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration is backpedaling on a proposal to allow New York-grown cannabis to be sold at farmers markets this summer.

The move could have helped the roughly 200 farmers who have obtained growing licenses from the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, which is overseeing the fledgling legal cannabis industry in New York.

The state has provisionally approved over 150 retail licenses since the adult use of recreational cannabis was legalized over two years ago. But due to delays and funding issues, fewer than two dozen stores have opened so far in the entire state.

That’s left the cannabis growers stranded, with next to no legal outlets to sell their crops.

At a May town hall meeting that the office held with the growers, director of policy John Kagia laid out a proposal to let them set up booths at summer farmers markets, where adults over the age of 21 could buy their products. He says the farmers could gain access to the markets through one of the state’s licensed retailers.

“We’re thinking very expansively about the types of places this can be done,” said Kagia, who said that “ as long as we can get municipal approval to host these events,” the office of cannabis management would like to help set up a market just for cannabis growers, to arrange for the growers to “piggyback” on an existing event, like a concert or festival.

“We would love for that to happen,” he said.

Kagia told the growers that he had authorization at a “high level” to discuss the plans with them.

“We hope that the farmers markets will present an opportunity to finally unlock this product, and help New Yorkers see the excellent quality that you guys have grown,” Kagia said.

Many growers welcomed the idea.

At the time of the meeting, officials said they expected the first sales to begin within a few weeks.

But those weeks have passed, as well as the July 4th holiday weekend, and the plans have not advanced.

An OCM spokesman, in a statement Wednesday, took a much more neutral stance on the proposal.

While spokesman Aaron Ghitelman says they “are always open to considering opportunities to strengthen” the state’s cannabis industry, he also says, “no final decisions have been made with respect to farmers markets.”

Potential barriers to the farmers market model include some local governments that have opposed retail cannabis shops, and the fact that the drug is still illegal under federal law, and the markets could jeopardize some federal funding.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.