LEWISTON, NY. 18 March, 2015 – A Niagara County tomato grower plans to morph into a medical cannabis grower after Republicans and Democrats on the Niagara County Legislature endorsed the company’s ambitious medical marijuana plan at a meeting on Tuesday night. The meeting also voted to approve a symbolic resolution endorsing the new medical marijuana law in New York.
Gary Smith, a co-owner of the company, which will grow pot as Herbal Agriculture, said, “We saw it as an opportunity to go to the next level.” The company, a subsidiary of Lewiston Greenhouse LLC, already has a state-of-the-art greenhouse and 12 acres of land on which to expand a grow operation. Other investors in the proposed operation include the owners of a garbage and waste management company, Modern Disposal.
Before Herbal Agriculture can begin a grow operation, the company must obtain a license from the state, in a competitive process that mandates local support for each applicant. The state will consider whether it’s in the public’s interest that a license be granted. Herbal Agriculture bolstered its position by securing the only New York license to sell Charlotte’s Web – the epilepsy treatment developed and made famous by the Stanley Brothers of Colorado. If Herbal Agriculture is not granted a license, the most sought after brand in the nation, will not be available to the New York parents who have actively campaigned for it.
Smith’s proposal lit a fire under locals, who did the math and got behind the plan. Under New York’s program – recognized as the strictest in the nation – medical marijuana sales will be taxed at seven percent, with the respective counties receiving 22.5 percent of the tax revenue. Herbal Agriculture could deliver an economic boost to upstate New York, a region which has actively sought investment over the past several years, even advertising on television with offers of relocation incentives to businesses.
The Niagara County resolution endorsing Herbal Agriculture was sponsored by Clyde L. Burmaster R-Ransomville,and Kathryn L. Lance R-Wheatfield, and obtained bipartisan support. The resolution states: “The awarding of a license to grow medical marihuana to Herbal Agriculture LLC will have significant economic development benefits to the county and its taxpayers, as counties where medical marihuana is grown in New York will receive 22.5 percent of the state’s 7 percent excise tax charged for medical marihuana.”
Smith says the company would operate in at least four locations in the region, producing oil-based medical cannabis. (The New York law does not permit medical marijuana to be smoked) He answered questions about security, by stating: “There’s going to be 24-hour security, razor wire fences, vaults for the product, vaults for the waste.”
The Niagara County Legislature has denied suggestions that it is rushed to support the Herbal Agriculture proposal as a means of getting ahead of possible plans by local Indians to grow cannabis. A federal Justice Department memo in December 2014 instructed prosecutors to stand down in cases of marijuana growing on Indian Reservations, and tribes around the country are discussing whether they can achieve another windfall on top of casino gaming revenue.
It’s unclear whether any New York tribe would consider the effort worthwhile, given the lack of access to a legitimate legal market within the state. New York governor Cuomo has taken a position against legalizing cannabis for recreational use, so Indian growers would have to operate entirely in the black market unless they applied for a license to grow legally.
A strong Herbal Agriculture application, with the support of the county legislature, would be likely to shut out other local applicants, including the Indians.