Prison reform

From Convicts To Cannabis Cultivators — Hudson Valley Town Approves Marijuana Facility In A Former Prison

By George Mouratidis

New York’s Hudson Valley is set to become a haven for the Northeast’s marijuana industry. 

Roughly seven months after New York legalized recreational cannabis, the town of Warwick celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony for its modern cannabis cultivation facility. Ironically, this new processing plant was once Orange County’s Mid-Orange Correctional Facility.

Green Thumb—a multi-state marijuana operator—will be the largest company in Warwick’s cannabis factory. Current estimates suggest this building will cost $155 million and measure 450,000 square feet.

At the groundbreaking ceremony on September 9th, Green Thumb’s CEO Ben Kovler noted the symbolism of growing legal marijuana where the government once housed prisoners. Kovler said he hoped Green Thumb could provide prosperity to those targeted by New York’s former “War on Marijuana.” 

As part of this reconciliation, Green Thumb says it will offer 175 jobs to locals in its Warwick plant. Employees could expect to earn as much as $50,000 per year.

NY Senator Mike Martucci was also present at Green Thumb’s September 9th ceremony. Although Martucci said he was worried about New York’s recreational cannabis program, he now sees it as a phenomenal business opportunity. In interviews with the press, Martucci said he would like to make Hudson Valley a national leader in the emerging cannabis industry. 

Currently, Green Thumb is only allowed to sell cannabis products through its medical marijuana dispensaries. However, the strains Green Thumb plans to grow in Warwick will go into New York’s new recreational cannabis market. 

Although New York legalized recreational cannabis in March of 2021, as of 10/18/201 there are still no recreational dispensaries. To speed up the licensing process, Governor Kathy Hochul launched the Cannabis Control Board shortly after Gov. Cuomo’s resignation. 

Most industry experts don’t expect cannabis dispensaries to open in New York till 2022. 

Supporters claim the new Green Thumb facility will minimize the risk of supply chain issues whenever recreational cannabis shops open in New York. Builders expect Warwick’s cannabis plant to be complete in 18 months.

A few critics claim Orange County spent too much money luring Green Thumb to the area. Although Green Thumb made approximately $155 million in 2020, Orange County’s Industrial Development Agency slashed the company’s taxes by $27 million for the next 15 years. 

There are also concerns over Green Thumb’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Advocates claim there are too few African-American and Hispanic employees in Green Thumb’s staff. 

New York’s recreational cannabis laws include significant social justice provisions designed to help minority communities. For instance, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act established a “Cannabis Reinvestment Fund” that will help communities adversely affected by previous drug laws. 

NY legislators also want to ensure at least 50 percent of cannabis licenses go to people who qualify for the state’s social equity program. In addition to minority groups and women, marijuana regulators say they will help veterans and disabled residents enter the new cannabis market. 

In its defense, Green Thumb claims at least 30 percent of its workforce is “diverse.” Executives also point out that Green Thumb is active in the “NinetyToZero” program and donates millions to nonprofits via Good Green. 

Orange County leaders like Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton defended their decision to lower Green Thumb’s tax rate. Sweeton and other Green Thumb supporters see these initiatives as an investment in Warwick’s economic prosperity. 

Former NY Governor Cuomo closed Warwick’s Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in 2011 due to budgeting issues. At its height, this prison housed over 1,000 inmates and employed about 450 people. 

Although there were plans to convert this prison to a new facility, there was no mention of cannabis till 2018. It wasn’t until the 2018 US Farm Bill passed that Sweeton began to research CBD hemp. This interest led Sweeton and others to pursue the contract with Green Thumb. 

Founded in 2014, Green Thumb now has 1,700 employees and connections with over a dozen US states. The company’s main office is in Chicago.