In this Cannabis Creative Blog, I sit down with Allan Gandelman, owner of an organic produce and hemp farm, and founder of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association (NYCGPA), the largest non-profit trade organization in the state. We talk about keeping the adult-use market on the right track, breaking down barriers to entry for residents, and what the industry can learn from beer and wine.
The New York cannabis market is arguably the hottest market in the country, even before retail sales are allowed. This sprint to adult-use has been years in the making, and one of the pivotal people involved in the process is Allan Gandelman.
Gandelman is the owner of Main Street Farms, a Cortland-based produce farm and Head and Heal, an organic CBD brand. He is also the founder and board president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association (NYCGPA), a non-profit industry organization that was created to educate elected officials on cannabis.
Gandelman was a longtime cannabis user who returned to the plant in 2016 when he got diagnosed with Lyme disease. The medical program in New York was sorely lacking, so he began to make his own RSO oil in a rice cooker. He already owned an organic produce farm, so it made sense to start to planting cannabis alongside his other crops. He started selling cannabis alongside his produce at farmers markets, and developed a separate brand when the cannabis out-sold the veggies.
This was back in 2018, when legalization still years away and the state had few regulations around CBD products. Gandelman grew frustrated with the quality of CBD products coming into the state, and set out to use NYCGPA to set the gold standard around cannabis products.
Today, the NYCGPA is the largest trade organization in the state, with over 300 members spanning all facets of the cannabis industry. The organization was actively involved in the development of the MRTA and continues to help the state develop the programs that will shape the legal market. Programs like mentorship for legacy and equity operators that creates a paper trail so they can establish themselves in the industry, and creating a New York-based supply chain that keeps the revenue from cannabis in local communities.
The rapid pace of the market keeps Gandelman busy, but it doesn’t stop him from looking forward. Taking inspiration from the abundance of wine and beer trails around the state, he envisions a future where cannabis trails draw in visitors and revenue. A rising tide lifts all boats, and Gandelman knows that by working together, the cannabis industry can accomplish more. He takes pride in the cohesiveness of his organization and embraces a spirit of coopetition, perceived competitors collaborating together.
As a New York resident myself, it’s heartening to see people like Gandelman at the helm of the industry, prioritizing local businesses and organic farming over big businesses and profits.
What’s something you see in the industry that excites you?
AG: Going forward in New York- just being part of an entirely new market and creating an industry that has a level playing field. Making sure that we focus on craft cannabis on small businesses and really giving people access to the market who want to have access to the market. A lot of that economic-social-justice side really excites me also.
What’s something you’re not a fan of?
AG: Well, there are a lot of things – I will keep that super brief. I am not a fan of other large industries taking over cannabis.
I’m not a fan of the pharmaceutical industry taking over cannabis. I’m not a fan of publicly traded corporations taking over cannabis. I think it’s just too early for that. We need time to let some of the smaller people be innovative, develop brands, products, and let consumers get to know cannabis a little bit more in the legal landscape before we just turn it over to like three large corporations, you know? So that part is happening faster nowadays. And I don’t love that.
Look, I’ve owned my own business for 10+ years. I totally am pro-business, but also I think that, we need more time for the smaller players to get a foothold and do their thing, especially justice-involved individuals, who are punished for cannabis and now they want to get into the industry. It’s really hard for them to get into the industry if other companies just have unlimited money and unlimited time and market access to just take over. So that part, I’m not super excited about.
Talk to me about sustainability in cannabis and the opportunity in New York
AG: I think what we’ve seen in a lot of states is just indoor grown cannabis to start because of security requirements. People were afraid, especially in Colorado. Then you move to California and, and Oregon, and you’re seeing a lot more outdoor grows. And I think what New York was saying- we are an agricultural state. Most of the state of New York is farmland contrary to people’s popular belief. It’s not just New York City. We have a lot of really experienced farmers who have fields and greenhouses, we have a big nursery industry, flowers, et cetera. And a lot of those people got into growing hemp for CBD.
So what we’ve done here in New York with the hemp farmers is say, okay, you’ve had a couple years of experience with this plant. You’ve been growing outside; you’ve been growing it in greenhouses. Let’s try to kick off the market with our existing infrastructure. We have growers, we have processors like myself, manufacturers, we have brands. So we’ve taken that approach here, and that is that’s the sustainable approach, right? Because you have existing infrastructure that you’re using, you’re growing outdoors as much as possible.
We have a full acre of outdoor canopy this year for all of our hemp farmers who get conditionally licensed, which is not a huge amount. I’ve been to a hundred-acre cannabis farms, but it’s not an insignificant amount. It is absolutely enough to make a living on and put a dent in the New York marketplace. And so that’s where we currently are on the sustainability front and going forward. I know that whenever they do issue indoor growing licenses, they’re going to make sure that those facilities are as close to carbon neutral as possible and highly energy efficient. I’m sure they’re going to want LED lights. I think New York would just continue taking the super sustainability approach as we move forward in that.
Talk to me about social equity in New York
AG: Our association has over 300 members, We’re the largest cannabis trade association in the state of New York and we have a lot of different committees. We have a sustainability committee, we have regional committees and we also have policy committee. We have a retail committee, we have a processing committee, we also have a social equity committee. And one of the big things that we’ve been involved with on the social equity side lately is this new mentorship program. Well, two things.
One is this new thing about the justice involved dispensaries. So we’re making recommendations to that program and that’s been a big thing on our to-do list. And then the other one is the bill that was passed, giving hemp farmers conditional cultivation license mandates a mentorship program. And we asked for that kind of program in the bill to make sure that for us, it was a method a pathway to get either legacy growers or social equity applicants into the industry, working with existing operations and then having that kind of paper trail so that they could go then apply for their own license.
One of the hardest parts about getting into cannabis, especially as a legacy operator, is you have no paper trail. You’ve been underground this whole time, so going to the state and saying, I’m legacy, giving me a license- it’s really hard to do that because there’s just a lot of legal complications that come from that. And there’s no guarantee. You’ve outed yourself and all of a sudden, they don’t give you a license and now you’re your livelihood is at risk. It’s a very difficult thing to work through. We’ve been working on that, figuring out how to pair farmers up with legacy operators or social equity potential licensees, and get them a little bit of information, a little bit of a paper trail, that they’re part of the industry. They have a little bit of experience and get them licensed so they can be part of the legal market.
And that’s currently been our Association’s approach on those very specific licensing and, and regulatory things. Making sure there’s space for people who aren’t just legal well-capitalized business owners, especially when it comes to the open licensing rounds. I think a lot of people don’t realize is that these states that open up these licensing applications, it can cost you a lot of money and lawyers to apply for a license. And we’re trying to create a system where, that will exist for other out-of-state companies or whatever. But we also need a system for like our fellow New Yorkers who have been in this for a long time to get in without having to like sell their souls. That’s a lot of the work our association does is around that topic right now.
What do you see the future of the NY market as?
AG: I see where we have a rollout later this year or early next year of these dispensaries, the justice-involved individuals, a supply chain by existing New York farmers and legacy operators. And it’s going to start a little smaller from that regard, because these are going to all be new people. They’re not very large MSOs. I think it’s a good thing for the long term, because you’re giving people a chance to get their legs under them. So that will happen. That’s kind of how I envision the rollout.
We do have 10 medical marijuana companies right now in New York. They also will be part of the rollout. They’ll have their extra adult-use dispensaries that they’re they’ll own, it’s like three or four more per company. And then after that, you know, I’m sure the state will continue issuing licenses for all parts of the supply chain and will continue building on the industry.
What’s something you’re proud of?
AG: I’m proud of our association and our board and all of our volunteers. Everyone has done such a good job over the years, creating what we think could be a fair system and making sure that small entrepreneurs will have access to the market. We’ve lobbied very hard over the years. And that was a group effort, a team effort. There’s a lot of us. That’s what I’m most proud is that we’ve all come together to get on the same page.
And when we work with organizations from other states like California, Oregon, or Colorado, they’re like “This is amazing in New York, when we entered our market, everyone was fighting. We were fractured. We couldn’t agree on anything. And you guys are also on the same page. You’re so well organized. You have your priorities straight.”
I’m really proud of the evolution that has come out of seeing what they’ve done wrong. And then all of us in New York getting together and not just trying to compete with each other, but lift all of us up at the same time.
We have been kind of modeling ourselves after the wine industry and the craft beer industry here in New York. And we’ve even met with the craft beer association to get tips from them; what have you guys done right? What have you done wrong? What would you recommend to us?
Tourism, we absolutely see that being a big role in the upstate, especially the Finger Lakes where we are. A cannabis trail would just do amazing, amazing in New York. So we’ll get there. It’s going to take another year or two, but we will absolutely at some point have a cannabis trail where, where people are visiting different farms and it’s going to be awesome.
AG: There’s a lot of stuff going on. On the farm side next for us is we’ve applied for these conditional cultivation licenses. We should know very soon when we get them and we’ll start planting our crops outdoors, our THC crop.
And then after that, we will be setting up the mentorship program. So hopefully working with people to get more people involved in the cannabis industry. And from there this fall, it will go into extraction and factory, making our products and other people’s products too. And then working with future dispensary owners to stock up their shelves, and continue doing breeding, making sure we have the right genetics for next year and just really, building up the industry one piece of the supply chain at a time.
What’s your favorite way to consume cannabis?
AG: I’ve always just liked smoking joints, old school. Now, gummies probably too, just because it is nice to have a metered delivery method and knowing exactly how much I’m taking. I’m not big into the concentrates or vaping or those kinds of things. Not yet. Maybe that’ll change, but so far I’m not.
What’s your favorite plant to co-plant with cannabis?
AG: One of the things that we do is we plant pollinator strips of flowers, like wild flowers next to our cannabis fields. And the reason for that is one, it looks really pretty, but also it attracts a lot of beneficial insects. And that’s part of our pest management strategy, having all the flowers so we attract beneficial insects and they actually keep the population of like the harmful insects down. So we don’t have to spray and use harsh pesticides.