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New York backpedals on proposal to sell weed at farmers markets

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Gov. 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 said 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,” Kagia said.

He added 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 4 holiday weekend, and the plans have not advanced.

In a statement Wednesday, OCM spokesman Aaron Ghitelman took a much more neutral stance on the proposal.

While Ghitelman said they “are always open to considering opportunities to strengthen” the state’s cannabis industry, he also said “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 the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.