A New York prison has locked up men for drugs. Now the site will grow marijuana
WARWICK, NY – Until it closed ten years ago, a sprawling state prison in this northwestern New York City locked up men convicted of drug and other crimes.
Now, Warwick aims to transform what was once a medium security complex in Orange County into a bustling regional center for cannabis cultivation and processing. Its entrepreneurs hope to take advantage of the state’s decision this spring to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
Local authorities have recruited seven cannabis-related companies at the Hudson Valley site, still marked by reddish brick buildings that, at one point, jailed nearly 1,000 men. In March, the city offered Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries tax incentives to purchase 38 acres for a large growing and manufacturing facility.
The promoters say the new businesses will bring in tax revenue and hundreds of good jobs. But some parents say making the city a hub for marijuana production could send a message of drug tolerance to children. Small producers across the state are concerned that large companies, such as Green Thumb, will crowd them out of the market. And even some fans of the project see risks ahead.
“It seems like everyone and their brother and sister want to jump on the cannabis bandwagon,” said Richard Hull, a historian in Warwick. “There will be a lot of competition, but it’s definitely worth the risk.”
In March, New York City became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed a law allowing possession of up to 3 ounces for people 21 years of age and older.
Warwick, a town of about 32,000, has quaint village streets and bucolic farms that attract families for apple picking in the fall. Its executives have yet to decide whether to allow cannabis retail stores or salons with on-site consumption. The state’s new law states that cities and towns can refuse to authorize such dispensaries by December 31.
Laura Ford, a resident with children aged 15 and 19, called the new cannabis cultivation center a “mixed bag”. She sees benefits for the local economy but is worried about increasing the supply of a substance that, for some users, could be a gateway to more drugs. Then again, she noted, the city has a long history of liquor stores, which can lead to alcohol abuse. “It’s not a simple question,” she said. “But I have teenagers and I don’t like to think they smoke marijuana.”
In the 1930s, the prison site served as a state reform school that attempted to rehabilitate rebellious New York boys with household chores tending to vegetables, cows, and chickens. In the late 1970s, the state turned it into a Mid-Orange prison facility for the wave of people incarcerated during the nation’s crackdown on drug offenses. It was closed in 2011, after the number of men declined.
City officials created the nonprofit Warwick Valley Local Development Corporation and paid the state $ 3.75 million for approximately 150 acres of prison property in 2013. Michael Sweeton, the city supervisor , said Warwick bought the site to avoid turning it into condos or something unwanted. “We want to control our own destiny,” he said.
The idea of creating a hub for hemp originated in 2018, he said, when the federal government removed the plant from the list of controlled substances. The city worked with the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, which offered incentives to attract business. Today, the former prison has seven businesses linked to a once banned substance, as well as a brewery and a sports complex.
UrbanXtracts manufactures cannabidiol (CBD) oil, tinctures, and other products. Phyto-Farma Labs LLC is testing cannabis. Citiva Medical LLC has a license to cultivate medical marijuana. And three small manufacturers use CBD or hemp: Honey Buz and Farmbody for skin care products and Scripted Fragrance for candles.
“It’s the irony: there were prisoners here for what we do,” said Eran Sherin, founder of urbanXtracts. He said he wanted to hire workers from disadvantaged backgrounds to promote social justice.
The big newcomer is Green Thumb, which has pledged to invest $ 155 million and create at least 179 jobs in three years, with benefits and salaries starting at around $ 50,000. Mr Sweeton said that when Green Thumb’s purchase of the approximately $ 3 million property is completed, as planned this summer, the Warwick non-profit will have recouped its purchase and repair costs. of the prison site.
In a deal approved by the county’s industrial development agency in March, Green Thumb secured incentives worth around $ 30 million over 15 years, including a sales tax exemption and a reduction of property tax. The agency estimated the benefits to the regional economy at $ 285 million during this period.
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A 20-minute public hearing on tax breaks drew comments from a single resident. According to a transcript, the man said citizens should have had more opportunities to contribute and review the agency’s cost-benefit analysis, and more evidence that incentives were needed to attract Green Thumb. The resident could not be reached for comment.
Ben Kovler, managing director of Green Thumb, said Warwick’s welcoming attitude was a key factor in choosing the venue. The company, which plans to build a large facility for indoor growing, is licensed to make medical marijuana and wants to add recreational products where possible. “Going to a place where they don’t want you is a recipe for disaster,” Kovler said.
Small growers in New York City fear being unfairly excluded by Green Thumb and other multi-state companies, said Allan Gandelman, a Cortland County hemp grower who heads the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.
Mr Gandelman said growers need licenses in time to plant a 2022 crop, but the governor and state lawmakers have yet to appoint a review board to set licensing rules for the manufacture. of recreational marijuana. Cuomo administration officials said they expected the council to be chosen by the end of the June legislative session, with regulations in effect in early 2022, followed by the granting of licensing and retail sales in the fall.
Mr Gandelman said that unlike large companies, his small producers cannot afford to expand their infrastructure now in the hope of obtaining a license. Big business “is going to have a super-duper head start,” he said.
The new marijuana law prioritizes candidates disproportionately harmed by past enforcement of bans, according to the governor’s office. The law also aims to grant half the licenses to businesses owned by minorities and women, as well as farmers in distress and disabled veterans.
“We will see an open playing field where small operators are truly able to not only compete but also thrive,” said Norman Birenbaum, director of cannabis programs in New York City.
“The market is big enough for everyone,” said Kovler of Green Thumb. “There is enough demand for many entrepreneurs to be successful.”
Write to Leslie Brody at [email protected]
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