It’s illegal in New York, for now at least, to buy some cannabis flower (buds), roll it into a cigarette and smoke it.
That, of course, primarily refers to marijuana. Efforts to legalize recreational adult use of weed is back on the agenda in Albany for 2021, after failing the past two years.
But what about buying and smoking buds of the other cannabis — hemp? It provides the popular extract, CBD, which advocates say reduces anxiety and offers other benefits. But it has less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive agent that creates the marijuana “high.”
Hemp buds or flower, and sometimes even pre-rolled “joints,” have been offered for sale at shops around the state for several years, although the legality of that has been a bit hazy.
New state rules proposed last week for the growing, processing and use of hemp and its byproducts specifically ban the sale of hemp flower. They also prohibit sale of any forms of hemp/CBD that could be smoked (although they do allow vaping products). After a 60-day comment period (see below), the new rules could take effect in January.
And while many in the state’s growing cannabis industry applaud most of the new rules, they are unhappy with the state Department of Health’s stance on hemp flower.
“It’s the most natural way to use CBD,” said Yardley Burgess Jr., owner of the Empire CBD shops in Central New York. “I get the standards and the rules, and we need them, but this doesn’t make much sense. This is our best-selling product.”
Advocates for the hemp/CBD industry also argue the ban on sale of fresh buds hurts the state’s 700 or so hemp farmers, especially the smaller growers. Many sell directly to customers and had hoped the new rules would allow them to expand their business to licensed retailers and shops.
One of those growers is Samir Mahadin, who owns Breathing Web Farms in Borodino, just south of Skaneateles, with his wife, Kristin Rocco. The farm produces organic products, including poultry, eggs, veggies and hemp.
In the past, he has sold hemp flower directly to customers via “word of mouth” and sometimes to retailers,
“It’s really the best product for profit-margins we have,” Mahadin said. “There’s a demand for it.”
Mahadin reduced the size of his hemp crop from 12 acres last year to just one this year because of the uncertainty over the new state regulations for hemp, which are intended to give New York the best-in-the-nation hemp standards.
But Mahadin had counted on growing more hemp and selling the flower to more stores and customers going forward. “That was a big part of our business plan,” he said.
Like Burgess, Mahadin argues the smoking of hemp flower is “most direct away to use it.”
“It’s below the legal threshold (less than 0.3% THC),” Mahadin said. “You’re not going to get stoned or intoxicated. People enjoy it. It’s the same with anything you smoke — it interacts with the lungs, the capillaries. It provides the fastest means to relaxation.”
While hemp flower is also sometimes used to make a version of tea, it’s the smoking and inhaling that led the Health Department to decide against making it legal to sell.
“In line with the Department of Health’s efforts to reduce tobacco and smoking consumption for all New Yorkers, the proposed cannabinoid hemp regulations prohibit the sale of hemp flower by licensed cannabinoid hemp retailers to discourage the use of this product form due to the negative health effects associated with combustible products,” Health Department public information officer Jill Montag said in a statement.
Still, the hemp industry is pushing back, and will use the 60-day comment period on the new rules to make their case.
Allan Gandelman, president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, was surprised by the ban on hemp flower sales, but put it in context of the health department’s overall philosophy.
“They don’t want anything smoked,” said Gandelman, who also grows and processes hemp at Head + Heal in Cortland. “But that’s going to be a big loss for the farmers. You can turn it into oil, and vapes, but you can’t sell it direct as is. That hurts.”
Burgess, whose Empire CBD has three locations in Syracuse, agrees: “It’s going to cripple the farmers.”
Empire CBD has sold hemp flower is containers, in sizes like 3.5 grams. He’s also sold pre-rolled joints. Among his suppliers has been Mahadin at Breathing Web Farms.
Burgess likes a lot of what he sees in the new regulations. He’s hoping to restock food items and beverages now that they’re likely to be legal again.
But he’s frustrated a bit by the twists and turns the hemp/CBD rules have taken. CBD-infused food, for example, was once a big seller, but a different state intepretation of the rules forced many to pull it off the shelves in 2019. Vaping has also been hazy.
“They just keep flip-flopping a lot,” Burgess said. “Twice we’ve had to pull food off the shelf. Twice we’ve had to pull vaping products off the shelf.
“Now food and vaping is OK, but flower is not,” he said. “It’s hard to understand.”
How to comment on the proposed rules
The proposed regulations on CBD and hemp extracts will be published in the New York State Register on Nov. 10, starting the public comment period. The Department of Health will accept comments at email@example.com.
MORE ON MARIJUANA, HEMP, AND CBD
New York’s new rules for CBD: Food and drink OK, but not with alcohol or tobacco
Cuomo to renew push for legal marijuana (and CBD in food), aide says
NY extends hemp pilot program, giving cannabis industry legal ‘breathing room’
Don Cazentre writes for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook.