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With retail pot coming next year, New York regulators finalize the rules for hemp

Gillian Flaccus

Cannabis businesses in New York can start applying to the state for a license to sell hemp products. Regulators will close the window to apply in six months.

As New York prepares for the sale of legal recreational marijuana by the end of next year, the state’s Cannabis Control Board is crafting rules for the production and sale of hemp products.

“This is a big win and opens up the market, especially for those of us who hold licenses because previously sometimes in state manufacturers who are not licensed or held to the same standards as the hemp extract bill have been creating these products,” said David Falkowski, a hemp farmer and processor in the Hamptons.

They included medicinal oils and lotions, food, beverages and pills containing the chemical CBD, which can have a calming effect and reduce inflammation. Hemp also has much lower levels of the psychoactive chemical THC than marijuana plants — less than 0.3%.

This week, the Cannabis Control Board standardized testing, packaging and labeling requirements for these products.

“We wanted to move quickly. And in the ambiguity in the current market place, we wanted to give businesses certainty as they are moving forward and on the future of their licenses,” said Tremaine Wright, the board chair. “We will continue to build the program and to ensure that we are providing the highest protections for New Yorkers while also supporting the hemp business and helping them compete in a rapidly growing national market.”

The rules for growing, processing, labeling and selling hemp products were being tested by select growers across the state over the last few years. It was seen as a model for recreational marijuana sales anticipated by the end of next year. So far, the state hemp program has provisionally approved over 2,850 licenses, including for Falkowski, who participated in the state pilot program.

“This is something that's been simmering since 2019. So it is very anticipated,” Falkowski said. “None of this really comes as a surprise to those of us who have been operating under research partner agreements in the pilot program, who are the current licensed manufacturers. It's really kind of business as usual.”

Falkowski said the licensing process will help legitimize the state’s cannabis industry and weed out black market companies.

“Next big question is what is enforcement going to look like? Is the state going to come and look at me under a microscope now that they are finally funded and staffed? Or they're going to start to look at all the other folks and bring them up to my level instead of chopping me down to theirs?” he asked.

The state cannabis board will allow the sale of hemp-infused foods and beverages, as long as the THC content remains low.

For now, regulators banned the sale of pre-rolled hemp joints and other products with more intoxicating effects until they explore the sale of marijuana products next year. That includes Delta-8 THC, which can be produced from hemp.

New York Cannabis Growers & Processors Association have called the rules “the most progressive regulatory scheme for hemp products in the nation.” The industry group said the final regulations balance consumer safety with the unique needs of industry stakeholders and farmers.

“They will allow for new market opportunities by allowing cannabinoid food and beverage products, strengthen demand for New York grown hemp, and will protect our processors from being undercut by imported products that do not meet the necessary quality standards set by these regulations,” said Kaelan Castetter, the group’s vice president. “Our hope is that the FDA will look at these rules as a model for consumer safety that also prioritizes industry growth.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.