Demand for sustainable cannabis grows before 2022 legislative session
As the buds of New York’s cannabis industry root and take shape, lawmakers and hemp growers are stressing taking action in the 2022 legislative session to expand cannabis entrepreneurs’ use of industrialized hemp — creating new opportunities for farmers.
New legislation proposed by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, would require the state Cannabis Control Board to develop detailed plans for the packaging and labeling of newly legalized recreational cannabis products and mandate the Office of Cannabis Management and Empire State Development create a sustainable cannabis packaging incubator program to give financial incentives to farmers and cannabis entrepreneurs to produce and use hemp-based materials.
“A lot of cannabis packaging uses a process with single-use plastic and individual servings, so it has a lot of waste,” Hinchey said. “We have to find ways to stop filling our landfills. As we create an entire new industry upstate, one that is pretty waste-creating, we should have a circular economy making sure that cannabis products are packaged with biodegradable hemp to make sure it will create much less waste as we start this new industry.”
Bill S7508 is in the Senate Rules Committee. The new proposed legislation will be one of several cannabis-related measures discussed in the upcoming 2022 legislative session, which starts Wednesday. Unlike other crops, hemp can grow in most climates and on most farmland, requiring less water and no pesticides or herbicides, according to the senator’s office.
Hemp-derived composites are 3.5 times stronger than conventional plastics and can replace a multitude of plastic items — such as water bottles, packaging, construction materials and car parts — and are biodegradable, taking between three to six months to decompose. Petroleum-based plastics take over 400 years to break down.
“Hemp is a product that varies incredibly in its uses,” Hinchey said. “It’s incredibly diverse. Everything that is created with plastic can be replaced with hemp. What’s exciting is, no one in the world is really doing this.”
“If we can kickstart the market here in New York, we would be a leader in this new manufacturing industry, which is a win for our economy and especially a win for upstate for our farmers and the environment,” she added.
The new measure would invigorate New York’s industrialized hemp industry and help the state be one of the nation’s first to prioritize environmental sustainability in recreational cannabis products.
“The Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board are reviewing a wide array of issues as we develop the regulations with robust stakeholder engagement and opportunities for comment that will bring this new industry to life in a safe, sustainable way that protects public health and the environment,” a spokesperson for the Office of Cannabis Management said in a statement.
Agency representatives would not answer specific questions about what methods board members are considering to regulate waste from recreational marijuana, or when the agency would publicly address the issue. The office does not govern the state’s industrial hemp.
Representatives would not comment on the proposed incentives for farmers or cannabis sellers to offset the use of plastics. The incentive to focus on using and producing biodegradable hemp-based packaging for cannabis products would provide business opportunities for small farmers, spurring economic development in upstate and rural communities.
Melany Dobson is the co-chair of the Sustainability Committee within the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. She’s also chief product officer and co-founder of Hudson Hemp — a 2,400 acre organic-regenerative hemp farm based in Hudson. The Columbia County hemp processor partners with several hemp farmers in Columbia, Dutchess and Ulster counties and is the parent company of Treaty CBD.
The CBD oil company uses biodegradable hemp herd from biotechnology company Ecovative Design, based in Rensselaer County, for all its packaging, including its compostible post-consumer waste boxes.
“One of our taglines is, ‘Sustainability is good, regeneration is forever,’” Dobson said. “Right now, given the state of the climate and our environment, it’s important that we go beyond sustainability to kind of revolutionize our industrial systems through regenerative agricultural practices.”
Ecovative’s hemp packaging uses hemp herd, or the inner, woody core of the hemp plant of the stock and mycelium fungi to fit any shaped package or product.
The bill will help create more resources for biodegradable alternatives to plastic and help other emerging hemp growers and cannabis businesses localize the industry and develop New York-based packaging supply chains.
The innovative thinking for the emerging industry is taking hold: New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association is committed to building sustainability into the framework of the state’s cannabis policy and infrastructure, Dobson said.
“Our goals are to set standards that prioritize sustainable practices,” she said. “This is such a prime opportunity for coalitions and associations to democratize this process and propose regulations and policies and ways to educate, and ways to educate consumers, so there’s value in making these supply chains sustainable and making the packaging sustainable.”
Dobson said she supports the proposed bill, adding that it will open the door for hemp to assist in the medical, food, fuel and packaging industries.
“The beauty of what this legislation proposes is it creates a closed-loop system on this industry,” she said. “What other agricultural commodity can we say that about? Especially at the state level.”
The state Cannabis Growers and Processors Association meets three times per week and is in regular communication with state officials from the Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board, lawmakers and other leaders to measure how to effectively propose measures to ensure sustainable practices become part of the industry’s regulations and legal framework.
Cannabis Control Board member Jen Metzger, a former senator from Rosendale, recently visited Eaton Hemp in Madison County, which sells organic hemp seeds, snacks and hemp-fiber pet care products.
“They were very interested to see what we were doing,” said Daniel Dolgin, Eaton Hemp’s chief executive officer and co-founder. Dolgin also chairs the association’s Industrial Hemp Committee.
“The OCM is very interested in having the adult-use program be very much about sustainability and climate change, being carbon neutral and all those good things,” he said. “In all the OCM board meetings, the issue of sustainability has been front and center.”
Dolgin is enthusiastic by the legislative proposal to jumpstart the state’s hemp use and production.
“The state needs to tip the scales, and right now, it’s a supply and demand issue,” Dolgin said. “You really need to demand to have people put seeds in the ground to grow for grain and fiber. A farmer is not going to give up valuable crop land when they know it’s something they can get paid for.”
Dobson agreed that conversations about sustainable cannabis practices remain at the forefront for all parties involved.
“We’re moving swiftly — we’re taking this period of time really seriously because there is an unknown to it, but there’s also an urgency,” she said. “There’s a real understanding that environmental and social justice are connected intrinsically and in order to create a just and fair industry, we must tackle these challenges with an openness that hasn’t been represented in other states.”
It remains unclear when recreational cannabis sales and the need for environmentally friendly packaging will rise as the new Office of Cannabis Management and the board work to develop rules and regulations. New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational cannabis after the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was signed into law March 31.
Advocates noted overregulation and numerous barriers in other states, such as California, that hindered sustainable practices and small businesses. Dobson is encouraged by the conversation taking place in New York that the same mistakes will not be repeated.
The 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates a 40% reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 85% emissions reduction by 2050, sets a framework for regulating incentives to make the state’s cannabis industry part of the climate solution, she said.
“I haven’t seen those conversations be carried out successfully in other states,” Dobson added. “There’s a real appreciation and sophistication about how we are discussing these things and how it relates to sustainability. The adoption of these efforts isn’t really a lofty goal — it’s kind of necessitated by this act, and that’s incredible.”
Hinchey has discussed the measure with several fellow senators who support the idea. The bill continues to build bipartisan support before session has started, she said.
“It’s one of those things that feels like a no-brainer,” the senator said. “We have the opportunity to grow this agricultural product, but there are no concrete plans. We know our solid waste is a problem, so if we can, it would be a solution to not create any more in the immediate future. That’s a huge win on the environmental side, on the economic side and all around for our state.”