Viewpoint: Legalizing cannabis could aid farmers

Liduvina Figueroa cleans up a marijuana plant during harvest at Harboside Farms in Salinas, Calif., on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

The devastating economic ramifications of COVID-19 are threatening the livelihood of farmers across the state. But many New York farms were already struggling, even before the pandemic.

Staples like milk and apples have faced declining prices and stiff international competition in recent years. Demand for milk products will be decreased for as long as businesses and schools remain closed due to COVID-19, making it hard for farmers to pay bills and keep their land without government help.

In the short-term, prospects are grim for our farmers, even with government action to stem declining profits. We should be looking to provide farmers with new opportunities to explore, and one of them is cannabis.

A legal recreational cannabis industry in New York would create a significant economic boost for farmers and the agricultural economy overall. Revenue from the industry was estimated at over $300 million a year for New York, and cannabis has proven to be a sustainable crop that can complement other seasonal rotations here. It also presents an opportunity to connect downstate demand with sellers in upstate communities to boost economies across the state, not only in New York City.

With New York state facing a roughly $15 billion budget shortfall, it is imperative to develop new revenue streams for small and mid-sized farms and businesses, and we already know cannabis would be a successful one. Even during this pandemic, sales of both recreational and medical marijuana have increased across the country.

The Legislature and governor still have the power to pass legislation that provides our farmers buy-in and ensure communities hurt by drug enforcement receive investment from tax revenues. It is only through this lens that action around legalization will have a positive statewide impact for farmers and devastated communities.

The success of New York’s future adult-use cannabis market will not only be defined by the millions of dollars of incremental revenue brought in, but by how this industry can become an economic engine for our hardest hit communities and uplift those who have been previously marginalized and overlooked.

John Gilstrap is co-founder of Hudson Hemp and the New York Cannabis & Hemp Trade Organization, Melissa Moore is New York deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance and a member of the Start SMART NY coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access Through Regulated Trade).

John Gilstrap and Melissa Moore Contributors