Sources in the Niagara County Republican Party say that the Republican dominated Niagara Country Legislature may soon hop on board to sponsor a resolution in support of Niagara County being a location to grow medical marijuana under the New York State Compassionate Care Act.
The Republicans are expected to caucus on the issue shortly.
Support from local legislative bodies is a condition of the application process for companies that wish to grow medical marijuana in New York.
Money may be at the heart of the county decision to consider support for a hometown grower.
Counties where medical marijuana is grown in New York will get 22.5 percent of the state's seven percent excise tax charged for medical marijuana.
How lucrative it will be is anybody's guess.
A report from Arcview Market Research says that across the country, profits from legal marijuana sales reached $2.7 billion in 2014, representing a 74% increase over 2013, in which sales topped $1.5 billion.
Marijuana is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, by Arcview's calculations.
State Sen Diane Savino estimated that potential tax revenue for New York may be in excess of a couple hundred million dollars a year.
While that may be an ambitious number to reach initially, if it were achieved, Niagara County could receive as much as $45 million if a grower from Niagara County was selected.
The state with the most residents, California, brings in between $59 million and $109 million in estimated tax revenue from medical marijuana sales each year.
If New York got the low end figure, Niagara County would net about $12.5 million per year.
But California has one of the more liberal medical marijuana laws in the country where "green cards" are issued for everything from insomnia to headaches.
Preliminary regulations for New York include only 10 diagnoses in the list of patients' qualifying conditions -- HIV/AIDS, cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington's disease.
Yet the Compassionate Care Act requires Dept of Health commissioner Howard Zucker to consider adding PTSD, Alzheimer's, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, and rheumatoid arthritis—to the list of qualifying conditions.
Meantime whoever becomes a grower stands to reap big rewards along with the county the company is located in.
The law allows for only five growers to open four dispensary sites each, creating a total of only 20 medical marijuana dispensaries to serve the entire state and its population of almost 20 million. New York State has 56,544 square miles. This means that some people may have to travel hours to access marijuana. The 20 dispensaries are likely to be high-volume centers.
Since there will be only five growers, it is probable that there will be only one grower selected from Western NY -- at best.
Lewiston Greenhouse LLC, owned in part by the owners of Modern Disposal of Lewiston, plans to be one of the applicants. They have an uphill battle since an estimated 100 companies are expected to compete for the five licenses.
If they are selected, regulations are exacting:
At the end of December, the New York State Department of Health released a 120 page draft proposal of regulations and is accepting comments up until Feb. 13.
Among them are:
Although a grower may invest millions in developing an operation, the governor may terminate all licenses if there is a finding that there is a risk to public health or safety- at any time. Licenses are valid for only two years then must be renewed. Additionally the law automatically expires in seven years unless renewed by the legislature.
On top of that NY Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, not the grower, determines the price of all sales and sets a per dose price for each form of marijuana.
To become a certified producer, applicants must prove they have "sufficient facilities" or a bond of $2 million, and pay a $10,000 application fee in addition to a $200,000 registration fee, which is refundable if the application is rejected.
Since growing must be done indoors, which may include a greenhouse, in a secure facility, if selected, Lewiston Greenhouse plans to operate out of Modern Disposal's 12 acre, state-of-the-art greenhouse and processing building which presently produces tomatoes under the name H2 Gro.
Still, New York's unique restrictions may limit the number of users and dampen overall sales.
In order to get a prescription, a patient has to be certified by a medical doctor, register with the NY Department of Health and receive a patient identification card which must be carried at all times when one is in possession of medical marijuana. No patient can legally possess more than a 30 day supply.
On top of that only MDs will be allowed to recommend medical marijuana. Doctors of osteopathy, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who often write prescriptions, will be unable to do so.
Licensed companies will grow and sell their own product, from "seed to sale" manufacturing the end use product on site.
Each grower may produce no more than five "brands" containing DOH-approved concentrations of cannabinoids like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which activates marijuana's psychoactive effect, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has been used successfully for reduction of seizures in patients with life-threatening Dravet's syndrome.
Critics say that limiting growers to five strains limits therapies since there are dozens of therapeutic strains for treating a variety of different symptoms and conditions.
None of the other twenty-two states with medical marijuana programs include such restrictions.
Smoking of the raw cannabis flower is not allowed—a provision that occurs in only one of the 22 states that allow for medical marijuana. The NY Health Dept maintains smoking marijuana is harmful to the lungs. However, many medical marijuana advocates say that smoking is the most inexpensive and efficient way to consume it.
New York's program also bans marijuana edibles, allowing for only oil "extracts" that may be vaporized, swallowed in a capsule, or absorbed in the mouth.
Who will be selected?
There are merit-based applications, considering location, experience, type of security, and, of course, background checks.
Geographic diversity will play a role in the state's selection of companies so they are spread throughout the state, according to state officials.
Growers must demonstrate they've planned every detail from security, to support from local lawmakers, to plans for how they'll transport the plants to dispensaries.
|Marijuana, once reviled by the establishment, is now considered the new growth industry.