From seed to sale: An inside look at legal cannabis

Legal cannabis, from seed to sale

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After months of injunctions and hold-ups, New York’s legal cannabis industry is finally getting off the ground. But before products can hit the shelves, it takes months of growing and processing and testing.

It all starts in a grow house. In Newark, Honest Pharm Co. holds the title of largest in the state, with a capacity of about 50,000 square feet. 

Owner Jeremy Jimenez said they started out years ago developing the non-psychoactive hemp plants — in other words, the cannabis plant that doesn’t get you high. Once New York legalized cannabis in 2021, Honest Pharm Co. started applying for cannabis licenses. 

“It’s the same plant, same process — it’s just, you know, switching over to cannabis,” Jimenez said.

Now, they grow between 10,000 and 12,000 cannabis plants. But many of those are technically the same plant, cloned over and over. First, the team gets the levels of THC, CBD, and other compounds exactly where they want them to produce the best effects when consumed. 

Then, they pick the best plants, and cut off trimmings, or clones. These clones continue the strain, helping to ensure that the flower, edibles, and other THC products deliver as predictable of an effect as possible. But they don’t make most products in-house.

“We have it staged so we always have fresh crop coming down and going to market,” Jimenez said. “We work with someone like Bristol Extracts to do the processing.”

Like Honest Pharm Co. and many other cannabis companies, Canandaigua’s Bristol Extracts started years ago by turning non-psychoactive and federally legal hemp plants into things like CBD tinctures and salves.

“We incorporate a lot of what we learned in the hemp space in terms of the medicinal value of cannabis, and we incorporate a lot of that into our three brands,” CEO Eric Blazak said.

Those three brands include Love Oui’d (a brand marketed towards women), Senior Moments (a brand Blazak said is marketed towards boomers), and Snobby Dankins (a brand for self-proclaimed weed snobs). 

Whatever the brand, the products start with the same step: creating THC distillate. This psychoactive oil is the main ingredient for THC products. Using specialized machinery, Bristol Extracts heats up cannabis to create THC vapor, then cools it down, leaving them with a dark-colored oil. A quick clean later using more incredibly specialized machinery, and they’re ready to start cooking. 

Among their products is the Snobby Dankins fast-acting nano edibles. The distillate in these edibles goes through a highly pressurized machine that Blazak said breaks down the particles so they’re incredibly tiny. 

“They actually go into your system through your bloodstream in your stomach lining, as opposed to being processed through your liver,” Blazak said.

This means most people will get high quicker, and feel a slightly different kind of high than a traditional edible.

Once the products are packaged and sent off to a third-party for testing to confirm their cannabinoid levels, it’s finally off to the shelves. Blazak’s products — made with Jimenez’s flower — are carried at places like Finger Lakes Cannabis Company in Victor. 

Mark Byassee is one of the co-owners. In the few months that they’ve been open, Byassee said they’ve seen all kinds of customers walk through their doors. Some of them, like Len Davison, have been smoking for decades.

“Everything’s licensed, and you know what you’re buying it’s just a good experience,” Davison said.

Others treat their THC more like a medicine. That’s the case for Pat White and Linda Lechner, who came to cannabis later in life than many. 

“Older people have different issues, I think, and sleeping is one of my big issues so I love that,” Lechner said. “And once I take care of my back with the cream I’m going to be a new woman.”

“I don’t do it for recreation,” White echoed. “I do it to make my back better and to help me sleep.”

Whether they’re a first-time smoker or seasoned cannabis consumer, the rollout of the legal market means that all consumers will have access to standardized, tested products.