In-Depth: Thousands of pounds of marijuana sitting in storage across New York state

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GENESEO, N.Y. – Thousands of pounds of marijuana are sitting in storage across New York. 

Cannabis farmers say they simply don’t have enough legal dispensaries to sell it to and many are worried they will lose out on thousands of dollars’ worth of investments. 

They’re frustrated by New York State’s slow rollout of legal licenses and wondering how long they can survive. 

Justin Merkel and his company, Lit 420, were awarded a license to legally grow marijuana on his farmland in Geneseo.

“I was hesitant, obviously, coming from the legacy market where I’ve grown 20-plus years,” he says, but he wanted to do things on the up and up. 

So, when he got the license, he planted and harvested his first legal crop.

“I honestly believed, just like every other farmer, that there was going to be 100-plus dispensaries and basically our last year’s crop was going to be gone before the end of January,” he tells News10NBC. 

But that is not the case. There are about 200 licensed farmers but only a dozen licensed dispensaries statewide. There are none here in the Finger Lakes region yet, and those approved for licenses in the Western New York region are not yet open. 

So, Merkel is just sitting on his crop.

“We’re close to 1,000 pounds at this point, and we’ve sold zero,” he says. 

He’s keeping it in temperature-controlled storage, but it can only last so long. 

The same is true for many other local famers who’ve made big investments to get into the market and are now facing big losses and costs continue to pile up.

“We have insurance that we have to worry about, we have laboratory fees, we have packaging fees, we have the labor involved in order to get pre-rolls made, we have all the machinery,” Merkel explains.

Before the farmers lose their entire crop from last season, they’re asking state lawmakers for help. They want to partner with anyone who has or gets a dispensary license in the next few months to set-up pop-up events. 

“As long as they’re sanctioned by the municipality, and OK’d by OCM (Office of Cannabis Management), we are basically going to set up our own stands and sell directly to consumers. Because of the slow rollout, what we’re asking is that New York State subsidizes the cost difference between wholesale and retail so that we can give New York State residents quality products from last year at closer to wholesale costs than retail,” Merkel explains. 

The Cannabis Farmers Alliance, which Merkel is part of, has taken the idea to State Sen. Jeremy Cooney, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on cannabis.

“I think that’s an interesting idea. I’m concerned about safety,” Cooney tells News10NBC. “I want to make sure that any consumer who attends one of those farmers markets is certainly able to purchase adult use cannabis and that the product that is being sold is done so safely with a security focus.”

Cooney says he worries that farm stands could become a target for thieves because of the lack of security combined with the high cash value of the crop. Merkel says he’s worried his crop will soon have no cash value at all if the state doesn’t approve the plan currently on the table.

“We have tons of expansion plans and I actually have investors that are hungry and ready to get into the industry but until I’m able to prove that I can pay them back, there’s no possibility of me even considering it,” he says.

If the plan is going to get legislative approval, it’ll have to happen this week as lawmakers go home for summer break on Thursday.