Health Department is harming a budding industry
Nascent industries face a host of challenges, especially when government agencies send conflicting messages to the public on safety. Recently the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene embargoed popular hemp products in stores without warning. In the media, the incidents resembled old-time drug busts, creating an unsafe impression of cannabidiol, which is extracted from hemp. The agency then delayed the CBD embargo until July 1 but vowed to start issuing fines in October.
The de Blasio administration should strive for correct messaging on public health issues rather than spreading alarmist impressions that can stigmatize and harm a new, vibrant industry.
Unintended consequences arise when government acts impulsively and inconsistently, disrupting relationships and patterns of trust between producers and consumers built over time. The Health Department’s actions sent shock waves through the farming industry. Farmers, like all business owners, base decisions on perceived market stability and consumer demand. When markets become difficult to predict based on mixed messages from government bodies along with corresponding consumer withdrawal, producers delay or abandon plans on expanding into those markets.
In 2015 the Cuomo administration rolled out an industrial hemp research pilot program—which was expanded in 2017—in order to encourage the growing of hemp as an agricultural commodity. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wisely saw an opportunity, stating in a news release that New York “can lead the way in this emerging industry.” The governor recognized the opportunity for “innovative ideas that could provide a major boost to our farms and communities, creating new jobs and laying the foundation for future economic growth.”
The future looked bright, with predictions of a multibillion-dollar market in New York alone. Farmers rose to the occasion by studying and growing hemp for multiple uses.
One such use involves the extraction of CBD. Hemp naturally produces CBD, a compound safely used for a variety of purposes. It does not get people high.
In line with Cuomo’s pronouncements, farmers developed growing and processing methodologies to comply with the program and began bringing products to market. While Albany seriously considers how to develop this new industry, better coordination between the state government and municipalities can avoid unnecessary setbacks for the industry and public trust. In accomplishing Cuomo’s vision, New York City should avoid rash and inconsistent actions that send negative and unsubstantiated messages connected with CBD.
State government not only has endorsed hemp but has created real standards that we must meet as growers and processors. Farmers look forward to this new exciting relationship with business owners and consumers in the city and other municipalities. Old ghosts and impulsive actions should not compromise this opportunity.
Allan Gandelman and Andrew M. Rosner are founders of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association.