Medical pot companies seek foothold
By James Walsh
GOSHEN – Orange County has a bumper crop of potential medical marijuana businesses, including one proposing to grow in the Black Dirt.
The Goshen Town Board gave its support on May 14 to a proposed growing operation on a nine-acre site at 873 Pulaski Highway.
Likewise, the Wallkill Town Board has lent support for Valley Agriceuticals of Purchase to cultivate and process medical marijuana on 70 acres off Dosen Road. County Executive Steve Neuhaus said two other would-be growers are eyeing the towns of Hamptonburgh and New Windsor.
“We’ve been contacted by no less than 10 companies,” Neuhaus said. “At least four of them have strong backgrounds tied to major medical institutions.”
At least one company has targeted Ulster County, selecting a Saugerties site for a potential growing operation.
Sullivan County Legislator Ira Steingart, who’s also chairman of the county Industrial Development Agency, said he’s heard of some interest about growing medical marijuana in the county, but nothing concrete.
The statewide competition will be intense. Prospective growers have only until June 5 to submit applications to the state Department of Health. Similar to the casino-selection process, the state intends to register just five organizations to grow and dispense the drug. Each can have four dispensaries.
Winners will be selected over the summer, according to the state Health Department.
New crop in Black Dirt
Scientific Herbal Advances of Manhattan told the Goshen board that the availability of farmland and skilled workers drew it to the town. Proximity to highways for delivery to the company’s proposed dispensaries is also a draw. The dispensary locations will be in regions around the state with a demand for the product, said Eldridge Hawkins, chief security officer for the company, in a telephone interview.
The company’s owners are Dr. Ramesh Sawhney, a Manhattan anesthesiologist, and Dr. Nina Bahardwaj, director of immunotherapy and medical director of vaccine and cell therapy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Orange County farmer Wayne Gurda would be the facility and cultivation manager. His family’s business, Gurda Gardens Ltd., has owned the Pulaski Highway property since 1993, according to county land records. The property includes a 1,484-square-foot storage building.
Growing at the airport
New Windsor Supervisor George Green said Neuhaus came to his office recently with a medical marijuana group called S&F Ventures. Green said they were looking to launch on Port Authority of New York & New Jersey property at Stewart International Airport.
“It was a very preliminary discussion,” Green said. “They wanted to see if I had any objections, which I didn’t.”
The prospective growers asked for a letter of support to include in their application. Green said he would speak informally with Town Board members before writing the letter.
The Port Authority did not respond to a request for information.
A year in the making
The state enacted the Compassionate Care Act in July 2014 to implement the medical marijuana program. It’s set to begin operating by Jan. 5, pending approval by the commissioner of health and the state police superintendent.
New York is nearly surrounded by states allowing medical marijuana. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey are among 23 states and the District of Columbia that have done so.
Applications to run the businesses must be accompanied by a $210,000 certified check including a non-refundable $10,000 application fee. The remainder will be returned to unsuccessful applicants.
New York will impose a 7 percent excise tax on sales. The counties of production and dispensing each get 22.5 percent. The state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services each get 5 percent.
Besides tax revenue, prospective growers tout employment opportunities.
Valley Agriceuticals plans to have about 70 people at the Wallkill site. Scientific Herbal Advances expects to employ about 50 in Goshen.
“As a former mayor, I’m sensitive to the need to build revenue,” said Hawkins, security chief for Scientific Herbal Advances. “This is something that can generate jobs, and the employees will support local businesses.”
He said access will be tightly controlled, but the site won’t resemble a prison.
“We do not want to create a stockade,” said Hawkins, a retired police officer and former Orange, N.J., mayor. “We want it to fit in with the community.”
He said Scientific Herbal Advances will have seed-to-sale tracking capability.
“We want to make sure that only those people entitled to it, get it,” Hawkins said.
Staff writer Andrew Beam contributed to this story.
Used with permission from localmediagroupinc.com