As New York prepares to build potentially the nation’s biggest legal cannabis cultivation industry, advocates and applicants are looking for ways to make the state’s grow sites more environmentally friendly than in other states.
“In New York, we are starting with outdoor production,” said Nicole Ricci, the President of NY Small Farma LTD, a group that supports consciously-grown cannabis. “There are ways to be sustainable. People are building greener.”
Indoor cultivation sites need to reproduce outdoor climates for cannabis to grow efficiently. Their grow rooms try to emulate weather found in Arizona and California, using HVAC systems, lighting, and humidity control that can run costs high.
“That’s what causes the heavy footprint,” said Ricci. “But in New York we haven’t started [adult use] production like that, so it is hard to say what is going to be done to alleviate that with indoor production. It is going to be a burden on the grid in New York, and we are promoting low carbon footprint and renewable energy.”
Biomass and waste disposal are also an issue. Pesticides and water-usage and contamination are another. These concerns will need to be addressed as well as odor mitigation from cultivation centers and potential consumption lounges or packaging of retail products.
“I think the [Marijuana Regulatory and Tax Act] set up a broad, sweeping authority,” said Michelle Bodian, counsel for Vicente Sederberg and co-chair for the firm’s Hemp and Cannabinoid Department. “They are going to work with the market on pesticides and the entire environmental conversation. They are really going broad in New York.
“I can see having a carbon footprint reduction program. I can see retail having restrictions on single-use plastics. At the application stage [candidates] are going to have to prove to the state how they are going to approach their environmental practices.”
NY Small Farma is promoting regenerative outdoor grow operations. Grows include plastic netting to prop up budding plants and plastic tags for seed-to-sale tracking that can be addressed in the future. For now, the group wants operators to understand that an outdoor grow works with the ecosystem and not against it, despite dealing with an East Coast climate.
“We are happy to see hemp farmers get the head start,” said Ricci. “Even though we want to see more groups involved, we are happy to see outdoor grow. People say outdoor grow can’t compete with indoor, and maybe not at first. But as people refine their techniques, there will be product on shelves that can compete.
“Cannabis has grown outdoors for centuries. It’s not easy growing outdoors, but it creates more jobs and it’s about caring for the workers and the community where the farm is located. Regenerative farming makes a positive impact. When organic produce came along, it didn’t look as pretty, but it has a really great flavor and it’s better for the environment. It’s the same with cannabis.
“Weather in New York is diverse. If you look at Holland and Afghanistan, they have cold climates and are doing quite well. Legacy markets have grown behind the corn for years.”
Operators will then have to pass that responsibility to consumers. Categories that could be promoted with branding include outdoor grow, local and sustainably grown, even social equity products may be labeled as such, allowing the end-user a say in future production.
“Today’s consumer makes environmentally conscious purchases,” continued Ricci. “They don’t want to contribute to a product costing them their environment, probably more than any generation before them has. I think they will choose those products.”
Ricci and NY Small Farma have a vision that will put cannabis in line with what the general public has seen with the wine industry. Small, craft farms, focusing on specific strains that grow well in their region, and possibly cannabis tours, similar to what a wine connoisseur would travel to Napa Valley for.
“The red barn, the pigs, there are cannabis farms like that,” said Ricci. “It’s just getting over the consumer stigma. Typically outdoor cannabis can sell for less than indoor, but the quality is higher. It’s also cheaper to grow outdoors in most instances.
“Who knows where the market will take us, but people will be looking for a good, clean product. No one walks in the liquor store and asks which shelf has the highest-proof. Taste and everything else will matter. Hopefully customers become more discerning.”