Hemp Farmer Organizes Forum on Ins and Outs of Cannabis Rules and Production

About 50 people, including media, local officials and speakers, listen as Steve Halton, an upstate hemp processor, speaks at local hemp farmer David Falkowski former on cannabis production on February 8 at the Sag Harbor Masonic Lodge. Michael Heller photo

“I can’t wait for people to understand what I do a little better instead of knocking on my door asking to be a tester,” Steve Halton, CEO of CNY Hemp Processing in New Woodstock, New York, told a group of about 50 people who attended a forum at the Sag Harbor Masonic Lodge on Saturday on the ins and outs — if not  the highs and lows — of cannabis farming, selling and processing last week as New York State and federal law evolves to allow and even promote it even as it carefully controls it.

Organized by Bridgehampton farmer David Falkowksi, who is state-licensed to grow hemp, a form of cannabis with very low levels of THC — the psychoactive ingredient found in its close cousin, marijuana — the event featured five speakers who spent two hours covering everything from the history and science of cannabis production to the nuts and bolts of current regulations, pending legislation and industry advocacy.

Mr. Falkowksi is also licensed to use his hemp to produce CBD oil and sell it at his Open Minded Organics farm stand on Butter Lane and his shop on Wharf Street in Sag Harbor. He’s not allowed by state law to claim it has any health benefits but people, including Mr. Falkowski himself, use it to treat aches and pains and other afflictions.

“The goal here is to demonstrate the cannabis programs that exist in the state, the legislation that guides them and pending legislation that is being presented and can still be formed that’s going to harmonize this and move us forward,” Mr. Falkowski explained at the start of the program.

Mr. Halton said that growing hemp can help farmers remain profitable although bottlenecks in the processing chain and other problems remain an issue. He described an upstate paper mill that was willing to process hemp fiber but wanted a commitment to deliver 8 million pounds of it.

“We need a lot more farmers” to meet that kind of demand, he said. “I would need 6,500 acres of hemp growing for that. I have a hard time now coming up with 300 acres.”

The event covered marijuana too, which is not yet legal for recreational use in New York State but supporters are pushing to make it happen in 2020. Nurse practitioner Elizabeth Cramer Ernst of Hamptons Medi Space in Hampton Bays, which certifies patients for medical marijuana treatment, said she’s currently handling 7,000 patients through her website and practice, more than half of them on the East End, and that there is access here to prescription delivery across the region. She spoke about the health issues her patients face, from cancer to anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, and the manner in which they take marijuana, including a vapor pen, in tinctures and in capsules.

After the eight decades during which marijuana was illegal across the country, its use is still prohibited by federal law but 11 states allow people to possess small quantities for personal use.

Now, each of the states “have to create a set of laws and regulations we can all live under and feel safe by,” said attorney Andrew Rosner, a principal of HR Botanicals, a hemp grower in Long Eddy, New York, and vice president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.

He noted that when a substance is legalized, the state is able to control its sale and use. Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed for that, he noted, with the Cannabis Regulations and Taxation Act to create an Office of Cannabis Management but it failed in the legislature this year.

“We’ve hopefully successfully demonstrated a widescale scope of these programs in the state,” Mr. Falkowski said of the legislation, advocacy work, and regulations covered during the forum. “I know this is a lot of information. Please just have faith that all of us who have presented here today have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours and at least thousands of dollars just traveling, learning, attending seminars like this. This is the beginning here locally; there’s been a big void and a gap; I’ve had to travel several hours at the least to just get any information in any volume that’s even close to what’s been presented here today.”

“Keep your eyes and ears open for larger forums oriented to a wider general public audience,” he added.