Swap the crop? New York hemp farmers eager to grow marijuana

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Gail Hepworth, right, and Amy Hepworth, sisters and co-owners of Hepworth Farms, pose for a picture on bags full of hemp plants at Hepworth Farms in Milton, N.Y., Monday, April 12, 2021. Farmers dealing with depressed prices for plants that produce CBD extract are eager to take part in a statewide marijuana market expected to generate billions of dollars a year once retail sales start. They already know how to grow and process cannabis plants, since hemp is essentially the same plant with lower levels of THC, marijuana's active ingredient. Now they're waiting on rules that will allow them to switch seeds. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ALBANY, N.Y. – Legal marijuana is coming to New York and hemp farmer Samir Mahadin sees it as a potential lifeline.

Farmers dealing with depressed prices for plants that produce CBD are eager to take part in a statewide marijuana market expected to generate billions of dollars a year once retail sales start.

They already know how to grow and process cannabis plants, since hemp is essentially the same plant with lower levels of THC, marijuana's active ingredient.

Now they're waiting on rules that will allow them to switch seeds.

“I would love to get a license to grow cannabis. My wife and I love working with this plant, I believe in its ability and power as a medicine," said Mahadin, who runs Breathing Web Farms in the Finger Lakes with his wife. "And it could save my farm because what happened with the hemp has been catastrophic.”

Last month, New York became the second-largest state to legalize recreational marijuana after California, with retail sales expected to begin as early as next year.

Existing medical marijuana businesses in New York are expected to play a major role in the new adult market, but lawmakers wrote in provisions to mitigate market dominance. Half of the licenses are supposed to go to “social and economic equity” applicants, which would include financially distressed farms.

Regulators are likely months away from answering market-defining questions such as how many licenses will be made available and how much they will cost. High prices for cultivation licenses, for instance, would freeze out some smaller farmers from the market, said Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers & Processors Association.