Some New York Cannabis Farmers Already Exiting the Market

New York’s 278 licensed adult use cannabis cultivators have not had an easy time the past year, and at least three have already exited the market, said Tess Interlicchia, the owner of Grateful Valley Farm.

“They’re really suffering pretty badly,” Interlicchia said of the New York marijuana farmers overall. “Two folks that I know of already lost their farms, and one relocated out of state. A lot of people are taking on investors … but then they’re not calling the shots anymore.”

Interlicchia said that the vast majority of cannabis farmers are still sitting on their harvests from last year, unable to sell crops or get paid for biomass that flower was converted into, primarily because of a lack of legal retail options – there are just 23 licensed dispensaries now operational, with a backup of 22 farmers markets, that are attempting to sell more than half a million pounds of cannabis from last year’s harvest.

That’s led her – and many others – to return to the grind of day jobs in order to pay bills and feed their families until the cannabis market actually takes off.

For her part, Interlicchia accepted a job in the student services department at Cornell University, she said, which is an hour-and-15-minute commute from her farm, yet another burden she’s shouldering for now with the hopes that the marijuana market will turn around.

“The top 15-20% are doing ok,” Interlicchia said of the 278 farmers. “Everyone else has at least another job.”

Interlicchia was one of several dozen industry stakeholders who spoke forcefully at the latest Cannabis Control Board meeting on Sept. 12 about flaws in the market rollout that have left her and many other entrepreneurs reportedly facing financial ruin.

She said she’s been too broke to take advantage of any of the farmers markets – which she estimated would cost her another $20,000 for lab testing and product packaging in order to participate. That’s money that Interlicchia simply doesn’t have.

That financial barrier to the farmers markets is why, she said, only about 70 of the 278 have been able to participate, according to numbers shared by the Office of Cannabis Management last week.

Interlicchia isn’t even sure at this point she’ll have the money to comply with the state’s new track-and-trace system, with which all farmers have to be compliant by Nov. 1, she said. She estimated the up-front costs to be at least $2,500, with another $500-$1,000 a month in ongoing expenses.

All of which has Interlicchia wondering whether she truly wants to stick it out in cannabis, a musing she knows is shared by other struggling New York farmers.

“I’m hanging in there. It’s really day to day,” Interlicchia said. “It’s tempting. Trust me. There are definitely some fantasies about, ‘Who wants to buy this place?’ … I’m not ready to exit yet. I definitely have to put my energies toward being a provider and bringing (in money).”

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