New York looks to become America's next marijuana hub

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • The city of New York is set to be become the United States of America's next marijuana hub with massive plans ahead.
  • It has been a month since the governor signed a law allowing the possession and use for adults aged 21 and older.
  • Medical purposes have also been expanded for distribution and use, allowing existing companies to now sell legally. 


Kaelan Castetter has plans for the unusued offices next to his factory: dedicate all 35 000 square feet of it to growing marijuana, which just became legal for recreational use in New York state.

"We are going to build out a state-of-the-art and world-class genetics and cultivation facility along with our finished goods manufacturing," said Castetter, whose company Empire Standard has since last year made products using already legal cannabidiol (CBD) at a facility in the town of Binghamton that he now wants to expand.

The company produces and sells oils, salves, smokes, gummies and drinks containing CBD, a cannabis substance prized for its relaxing properties that Congress allowed to be cultivated in 2018.

However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, is illegal federally, but a number of US states have nonetheless green-lit its recreational use.

New York's governor last month signed a law allowing its possession and use for adults aged 21 and older, and expanding its distribution for medical purposes.

READ | New York and Virginia take steps to legalise marijuana

That allows companies like Empire Standard, which already are well-versed in cannabis cultivation for use in CBD, to now sell products with high concentrations of THC.

"How often do you get a chance to be in an established market with a product that has not been allowed to be sold? That's not even a once in a lifetime," said Jim Castetter, the company's sales chief.

Historic opportunity

At the Binghamton factory's assembly line about three hours from New York City, Jim, Kaelan Castetter's father, watches as employees in white lab coats assemble small boxes of CBD flowers.

The 55-year-old is a pioneer in the New York cannabis industry, after having been involved in several more or less legal business ventures over the years.

He sees legalization as a historic opportunity.

"It's that change in generations, that change in mindset, the change in political structure, that now we've arrived at this point where everyone says 'This is no big deal,'" he said.

ALSO READ | Democrats slam Biden's White House staff dagga policy

Among Americans, legalization has never enjoyed such strong support: 68% of respondents to a Gallup survey conducted at the end of last year are in favor of it, compared to less than half a decade ago.

Kaelan Castetter believes New York is primed to become a marijuana mecca on par with California, the most-populous state in the nation which legalized its recreational use via a voter-approved ballot measure in 2016.

"This can't be a better time for New York to legalise adult-use cannabis and create an industry that's 30 000 or 50 000 jobs and billions of dollars pumped into the economy," he said.

The road ahead

With the expanded factory, the 24-year-old plans to increase his workforce to more than 100 employees from 15.

However, the economic benefits of legalization may not be felt immediately.

To produce, distribute or sell cannabis, professionals will need to have a business license granted by a state commission currently being set up.

"I think we'll see licenses at the very end of this year, that would be the earliest, and that's like putting on a jet pack and all systems go," said Cristina Buccola, a New York lawyer specializing in the industry.

OPINION | SA needs to act now to maximise benefits of cannabis sector

Recreational cannabis is now legal in 16 US states and the capital Washington, but remains prohibited at the federal level, meaning people who consume it could still face trouble under federal law.

"In face offs between state and federal government, the federal government pretty much always wins," Buccola said.

Supporters of nationwide legalization have taken heart from New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who leads the Democratic majority in the Senate and has said he is in favor of federal legalization.

Beyond business

New York's law stands out from other American states in its focus on social justice.

The law would direct part of the estimated $350 million yearly tax revenues from cannabis sales to communities most affected by drug enforcement in the United States, particularly Blacks and Latinos.

The criminal records of those convicted of illegal cannabis possession will be purged, and half of businesses licenses will be set aside for minorities, women-owned businesses, wounded ex-military personnel or farmers affected by disasters.

"New York has set these priorities in legislation, but yet they're going to have to follow through and make an industry that truly is accessible to all," Kaelan Castetter said.


Do you want to know more about this topic? Sign up for one of News24's 33 newsletters to receive the information you want in your inbox. Special newsletters are available to subscribers.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
Is social media doing more harm than good?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, our children are exposed and we can't protect them
49% - 6226 votes
Yes, but social media is part of the new reality
45% - 5700 votes
No, it's great for growing a child's world view
5% - 666 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
14.13
+0.0%
Rand - Pound
19.86
+0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.07
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.92
-0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.2%
Gold
1,826.85
+0.6%
Silver
27.09
+0.4%
Palladium
2,863.32
+0.1%
Platinum
1,210.07
-0.3%
Brent Crude
69.32
+1.1%
Top 40
60,211
-2.1%
All Share
66,169
-1.9%
Resource 10
69,474
-3.1%
Industrial 25
82,513
-1.5%
Financial 15
12,499
-1.1%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo