Standing in a warehouse outside downtown Rochester, Jeffrey Medford watered his cannabis crop under industrial lights. He’s among the many growers who’ve transformed the city’s network of defunct factories into sophisticated indoor farms. Mr. Medford, 58, who has grown cannabis for nearly a decade after a career as a carpenter, would typically be hypervigilant for any slip-up that would alert the police to his presence. An outsized electricity bill, for example, could give him away. But since January, Mr. Medford has spoken openly about his operation to a packed online classroom as part of a business mentorship program.
In January, New York State regulators launched the Cannabis Compliance Training & Mentorship Program. The goal is to give legacy operators — loosely defined as players in the illicit market before legalization took place in 2021 — the information and skills necessary to stay current with emerging rules. For the first time, growers in the legal market will face requirements such as product testing and environmental controls.
While many states that legalized cannabis are losing revenue to illicit markets, New York aims to bring underground growers into the sanctioned market. The challenge is convincing a thriving industry, long distrustful of law enforcement and government, to embrace new regulations. So far, however, New York’s legalization effort has been slow and bumpy. And for legacy growers who signed up for the training program, it’s unclear if it will improve their chances of getting a license, leading to frustration for some.
“For a lot of us, this isn’t a hobby; we provide for our families with this plant,” said Mr. Medford, who added that legacy operators would likely remain underground if not ushered into the legal marketplace. “I’ll be but a blip on a radar. I’ll be in the woods, perfecting my craft, growing more cannabis than ever before,” he added.
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