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People at concerts and festivals in New York may soon see legal cannabis pop-ups

Gino Fanelli

The state Office of Cannabis Management on Wednesday approved a measure to allow cannabis to be sold at fairs, festivals and concerts and other related events.

The vote by the state’s Cannabis Control Board helps solve a problem caused when state regulators got behind schedule in plans to open retail stores.

There are now 463 approved retail licenses, after the board voted Wednesday to allow 212 more licenses. But so far, just 20 stores have opened. That’s left about 200 farmers who got licenses last year to grow cannabis stranded, with virtually no legal outlets to sell their crops.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of interest over the last few weeks,” said John Kagia, director of policy for the Office of Cannabis Management.

He told the board that the resolution will enact a “growers showcase” that will allow the sale of the farmers’ products at festivals, fairs, concerts and other venues.

“The cannabis growers’ showcases, we believe, are going to be a win for our consumers, who will finally get access to legal regulated product across the state,” he said.

Kagia said it’s also a win for farmers who “have a significant amount of inventory” that needs to be sold and for retailers “who can begin to seed the sales opportunities in the communities where they're ultimately going to be operating.”

He said the pop-ups will also help farmers directly connect with customers.

The cannabis stands will first need approval from the local government where they will be selling, and they can’t be held in municipalities that have voted not to allow cannabis retail dispensaries.

The rules also require a licensed retailer to work with up to three growers to sell at the outdoor events.

The proposal was first introduced in May, when Kagia said he had been given the go-ahead from a “high level” of authority to pursue the program. But it languished for the next several weeks, with an OCM spokesperson issuing a noncommittal statement on July 5 about whether the program would go forward.

Only one board member, Dr. Jennifer Gilbert-Jenkins, professor of agricultural science at SUNY Morrisville, raised some objections.

Gilbert-Jenkins, who is a consultant to hemp and cannabis farmers, asked for more guarantees that the growers will fully benefit from the events. She asked that sales be limited to cannabis flower produced by the growers, rather than edibles, which contain THC but are processed by others.

“This opportunity to add value-added products in there is a very slippery slope,” Gilbert-Jenkins said. “It is incredibly important to me that these are not just pop-up dispensaries.”

She eventually voted yes after Kagia and other OCM staff agreed to immediately begin discussion on the details of the program and to add more safeguards for farmers.

The office plans to hold town halls over the coming weeks to go over details with growers and retailers. They said they are hopeful that cannabis sales at the events can begin as soon as the end of the summer.

An industry group, the Cannabis Growers Association of New York, expressed cautious optimism, saying they have advocated for sales at concerts, fairs and festivals but noting that “as with any new program, the devil is in the details.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.