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High hopes for weed market at Winter Cannabis Carnival

Gino Fanelli
Sen. Jeremy Cooney at the Winter Cannabis Carnival on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at the Main Street Armory.

As state Sen. Jeremy Cooney made his way through the oppressive haze and wall-to-wall crowd that swallowed the interior of the Main Street Armory, he came to a conclusion — when it gets fired up, New York’s legal marijuana market will be big.

He’s not alone in his conclusion. While New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance has estimated that the state’s marijuana market could reach $3.5 billion a year, other analysts place the number as higher. For example, an analyst from financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald placed the number at $7 billion annually.

“Looking around here, I think it becomes obvious that, if anything, we’re way underestimating the market potential for adult-use recreational marijuana,” Cooney said.

This was the Winter Cannabis Carnival, an event that packed together about 100 fledgling cannabis businesses from around the region to showcase their finest buds, tinctures, edibles, and scores of other THC-tinged products.

Cooney, a longtime supporter of the recreational marijuana industry in New York, came to Saturday’s carnival to witness legal marijuana’s new entrepreneurial frontier firsthand and to offer some guidance to people who had been previously convicted of marijuana offenses about how to get their records expunged, which the state law legalizing recreational cannabis provides for.

“Looking around here, I think it becomes obvious that, if anything, we’re way underestimating the market potential for adult-use recreational marijuana."
State Sen. Jeremy Cooney

New York legalized recreational marijuana in March, but officials have just started developing the regulations that will create and govern a legal marketplace. In October, chair of the state Cannabis Control Board Tremaine Wright put the first licenses rolling out in spring 2023 at the earliest.

Cooney argued the licenses could, and should, be issued sooner.

“I think if we do everything right, we could get this done in seven months,” Cooney said.

As the crowd churned through the carnival, stoner-classic tracks from the likes of Nas and Afroman echoed through the Armory’s interior while aerial silk artists from Aerial Acrobatics of Rochester performed high-flung feats off of a pyramid trapeze. The event was meant to be fun, but it made abundantly clear that cannabis entrepreneurs are not waiting for state rule-makers to get their businesses going.

Vendors at the carnival hocked their wares under the guise of the so-called “gifting clause” in the state’s marijuana law. The provision allows adults to exchange, for free, up to three ounces of cannabis. The idea was that consumers at the carnival weren’t buying weed, they were making a donation.

That approach has been used in practically every state that’s legalized. Recently, the chair of the state’s Cannabis Control Board said that businesses “gifting” marijuana in that way is against the law and warned them of potential enforcement.

The opportunity the new market presents is a major draw for people seeking a chance to be on the ground floor of a new industry. Adriana Quinones offered edibles under the brand name D8Z.

“For the first time in my life, as a gay woman of color, I have the chance to create real, generational wealth,” Quinones said. “I have the opportunity to probably set my daughter up, I’ve been helping my mom pay the bills.”

Gino Fanelli
Adriana Quinones of D8Z at the Winter Cannabis Carnival on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at the Main Street Armory.

Others see the chance to carve out standout businesses in areas of the cannabis market that will likely be highly competitive. Katelyn and Bishop Strader offer a cannabis delivery service dubbed the Loud Cloud. Based in Rochester, but they’re willing to haul out to as far as Buffalo for the right order.

“We want to be the Grubhub for weed for this entire region in western New York,” Katelyn Strader said.

For Cooney, the opportunities the new industry presents cannot be overstated.

“What I hope we will see out of the cannabis industry is like the Kodak of years past,,” Cooney said. “All of the supply chain industries, all of the ancillary businesses that will sprout up, pun intended, and help bolster this, not only for Rochester, but across New York state.

“It’s not lost on me we’re the Flower City, I think we can define the next generation of flower.”

Gino Fanelli covers City Hall. He joined the staff a reporter in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.