ITHACA, N.Y.—While the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association (NYCGPA) has been around for over three years — having built a statewide network of business interests, established a lobbying effort and built some clout in Albany — but at this point the groundwork of building a tightly woven local and regional network of businesses is still in the early stages for the young association.

NYCGPA’s Southern Tier Regional Committee met and held an event in Ithaca at the Northstar Public House on Monday, marking just its second meeting. There are nine regional committees total under NYCGPA, representing all the areas of the state, except for the North Country where one hasn’t formed yet. The NYCGPA had around 250 members in January, and now has 380 according to the organization.

The Southern Tier Regional Committee, and NYCGPA at large, make one message loud and clear above its others: where other states have seen corporations take over the THC cannabis market after legalization, NYCGPA intends to stake out a plot for small and mid-sized cannabis businesses to grow in New York.

While CBD cannabis farms, processing, and retail has been in existence since being federally legalized at the end of 2018, the THC market is just rolling out in the state after cannabis was legalized for recreational use in March 2021 in New York State. 

Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug on the federal level, sharing this category with heroin. This status means cannabis is considered a substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Cannabis’ status as a schedule 1 drug means that state markets aren’t able to interact with one another, making competition internalized in New York. It’s also an opportunity that the NYCGPA sees to develop their vision of what the industry should look like.

Monday’s regional committee meeting was pitched as a networking event, and a taste of things to come from the NYCGPA at large. Around 50 people were in attendance, including local cannabis farmers that have already received their licenses, local elected officials, and people interested in entering the cannabis industry as processors or retailers.

NYCGPA defines itself as a “big tent industry trade association,” meaning that it represents processors and retailers in addition to cannabis farmers, as well as the nascent state industries prospective license-holders in all these categories.

Brian Batrowny, Chair of the Southern Tier Regional Committee, emphasized on Monday that, “We’re not multimillionaires. We’re not multistate. We’re not Trulieve or Green Thumb industries. We’re not publicly traded entities, bringing in billions of dollars.”

Batrowny, who is from Elmira in Chemung County, said he and NYCGPA want to see the industry develop to let small businesses grow in it and benefit communities like his that have seen its local economy struggle after manufacturing declined in the last half of the 20th century.

Ithaca’s Acting Mayor Laura Lewis was in attendance on Monday primarily, she said, to better understand what business opportunities might be headed to the Ithaca market. 

Recreational cannabis represents a large business opportunity for the Southern Tier and the rest of rural New York, where manufacturing and agricultural industries have either disappeared or felt the squeeze of big business. 

The New York State Cannabis Control Board (CCB), the entity charged with developing the regulatory framework for New York’s cannabis industry, has prioritized granting small and mid-sized businesses and farms licenses to grow THC cannabis, much to the applause of the NYCGPA. The CCB also has also committed to doing the same for retail licenses, with a strong emphasis on social equity. The first 100 to 200 Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary licenses will be granted to New Yorkers that have past convictions related to cannabis, or have family members that have had convictions.

Navigating the application process for these retail licenses is a task that NYCGPA Southern Tier Committee stated on Monday that it would assist people in. While larger businesses are an inevitability in New York’s THC Cannabis market, building and ensuring the existence of this smaller network is where the association is aiming the development of its services.

As the NYCGPA Southern Tier Regional Committee Vice Chair Damien Cornwell put it on Monday, “We’re going to need more than goodwill when there’s good money” moving into the industry.

“Everything that we advocate for as an association is to help people get a foot in the door, and simply level the playing field,” NYCGPA Board Chair Allan Gandelman told the Ithaca Voice in an April interview. “I don’t think this is a situation where we have to keep big business out of cannabis in New York. That’s an unrealistic advocacy point. There’s room for giant companies, and there’s room for the mom and pop craft businesses.”

One of the organization’s strategies to level the playing field is to develop an insurance program for cannabis farmers, similar to the New York Farm Bureau. 

The NYCGPA’s insurance product is still being reviewed by the state, but NYCGPA Managing Director Dan Livingston said that by creating their own program, the NYCGPA can develop a revenue stream for the organization while also filling a need for cannabis growers. 

There is a lot yet to be determined for New York’s cannabis industry, like the continued roll out out of regulations, but the NYCGPA, municipalities, and small business owners are palpably excited for the future.

Livingston said, “If you give small and mid scale operators a  legitimate chance to build their businesses before the big guys are given free rein over the industry, then you actually might just see the small mid scale operators in an almost unbelievable way, competing with the big guys.”

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn