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Finger Lakes region cannabis marketplace ready for green light to begin operations

Finger Lakes region cannabis marketplace ready for green light to begin operations

The Colorado cannabis data company BDSA predicts that New York will be the biggest new legal market of 2023, with $1.3 billion in total sales this year and $2.7 billion by 2027.

But, what’s the market like for New York state’s legal retail cannabis industry right now? It’s a mixed bowl depending on who you ask.

Steve VanDeWalle – “We’re at this pivotal moment.”

Steve VanDeWalle is the founder and CEO of Vandy’s Craft Cannabis, a premium craft cannabis brand in Rochester and the host and executive writer of the Cannabis Cum Laude Podcast. He also holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from the University of Rochester.


“The state of the market at this second is very bad,” said VanDeWalle, who is particularly concerned for the state’s licensed cultivators who have a glut of sun-grown products. “There are not enough dispensaries open yet and we have a massive supply chain clog of outdoor grown weed. You’re going to see a lot of farmers who won’t make it.”

About 200 licensed farmers grew legal outdoor cannabis in 2022, but there are currently only 13 licensed retailers with their doors open. VanDeWalle is hopeful that the state’s recently announced plan to open cannabis farmers markets starting this summer could help cultivators.

This Growers Showcase program – which will allow adult-use cannabis retailers to create pop-up farmers-market-style markets with adult-use cannabis cultivators – is supported by the Cannabis Association of New York (CANY).

CANY has started an urgent message drive to encourage state leaders to get the initiative up and running as quickly as possible to help with the supply chain issues and create another stream of revenue for cultivators and CAURD licensees.

VanDeWalle believes the state needs to continue thinking outside the box to get more products in the hands of consumers and to get more New Yorkers — including legacy and non-CAURD operators — licensed quickly. He is waiting to apply for a micro-business license, which he says is an excellent license for small-scale operators.

“The reality is that when you implement a new market that’s targeted to craft and small businesses and also add a social justice component, it’s very complex and can cause a very slow and drawn-out rollout,” VanDeWalle said. “I think the state is trying to do the rollout the right way, but we’re at this pivotal moment where they have to do something drastic or the legal market could crash.”

Zachary Sarkis – “I’m really hopeful this market will explode.”

Zachary Sarkis is the owner/operator of FLWR CITY COLLECTIVE and organized the Rochester region’s first hemp conference in 2018. Additionally, he’s a partner on a New York state cultivator license.


“The market in New York is chaotic right now,” said Sarkis, pointing to community farms that are struggling with oversupply, a limited number of licensed retail outlets, and sometimes conflicting timelines from the state. “From a grower’s perspective, it’s a really intense and really challenging time.”

Sarkis does see new points of light, though, including the recent settling of the Variscite NY One, Inc. lawsuit that had halted cannabis dispensary licenses from being issued in the Finger Lakes.

“The opening up of the Finger Lakes region is a huge thing,” Sarkis said. “I’m really hopeful this market will explode and when it does it will be a beautiful thing and very robust. There are many opportunities in this market and it’s beyond our imagination right now. It can be whatever we want it to be as long as we’re in it.”

Sarkis, who graduated from the University of Vermont, has spent time visiting open retail dispensaries around New York and is excited by what he’s seen.

“They are all hustling and bustling and customers are returning, which is the big thing,” said Sarkis, who is also pleased that the state will be starting the Growers Showcase program. “Farmers’ markets should be a foundational part of this market. There’s no better way to share and connect and it can be done safely and easily.”

John Kagia – “Poised for very aggressive growth.”

John Kagia serves as the director of policy for the state’s Office of Cannabis Management. He says that currently, the state is at a critical stage in its rollout, especially as it tackles unlicensed and illicit cannabis operators, but that he’s extremely optimistic about where it’s headed.

Last month Governor Kathy Hochul signed new legislation that empowers the Office of Cannabis Management and the Department of Taxation and Finance to take action against unlicensed dispensaries with penalties including fines of up to $20,000 per day and the seizure of products.


“The emergency enforcement regulations will be a really critical part of our work from here on out,” Kagia said. “We’re very grateful the governor and legislature were able to give us the authority to aggressively target unlicensed cannabis businesses.’

Specific to the Finger Lakes, Kagia is looking forward to getting CAURD licenses issued in the region soon.

“New York will be poised for very aggressive growth in the next few years,” said Kagia, who said the state has several unique attributes that will propel it towards being a global leader in legal cannabis. “We have a rich diversity of culture in New York, and it’s reflected in our brands here.”

Kagia says the brands and products seen on the shelves of the retail dispensaries already open in New York reflect the state’s collective culture, ethos, and style.

He also points to the state’s commitment to building equity into its legal cannabis industry from the beginning as a foundational piece, rather than infusing it into the program later as some other states have done.

“NY has put our CAURD applicants at the front of the line,” Kagia said.

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.