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Rochester's first legal weed shop to open on Wednesday

Mike Dulen, Pines co-founder and CEO, and Brian Lane, Compliance Officer at NOWAVE, collaborate on customer service experience surrounding the opening of the cannabis showcase on East Ave. across from Wegmans.(photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Mike Dulen (right), chief executive officer of A Walk in the Pines, and Brian Lane, the compliance officer at NOWAVE, outside the Herbal IQ-Rochester cannabis showcase on East Avenue across from Wegmans.

The first legal weed shop in Rochester is set to open on Wednesday, more than two years after the state legalized the retail sale of cannabis.

Herbal IQ-Rochester is located at 1749 East Ave., across from Wegmans, and will carry flower and other products from growers and processors in the Finger Lakes and Central New York, according to people behind the operation.

The granting of licenses for retail dispensaries in the Finger Lakes and much of the state has been delayed by litigation. The most recent obstacle came in the form of a case filed by four military veterans, who allege the state’s policy of issuing licenses first to people with previous cannabis convictions is unconstitutional.

A court injunction in that case effectively halted the opening of dispensaries here and elsewhere.

Against that backdrop, Herbal IQ-Rochester is better described as a “pop-up” than a permanent shop. The operation takes advantage of a new policy, approved by the state Cannabis Control Board in July, that allows already legal dispensaries to establish temporary outlets where growers and processers can showcase and sell their products directly to consumers.

Hash infused joints in production at NOWAVE that will be featured at the cannabis showcase in Rochester. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Hash-infused joints produced at NOWAVE will be sold at Herbal IQ-Rochester.

The operation takes its name from Herbal IQ, a licensed dispensary in Depew, Erie County, that is fronting the business, and its organizers expect to be open through the end of the year.

Among the growers to showcase their wares at Herbal IQ-Rochester are A Walk in the Pines in Geneva, Tap Root in Skaneateles, and Ananda Farms in Fulton. The outlet will also feature extracts, edibles, and drinkables from local processor NoWave.

“In order to be a showcase, you need a licensed and operating dispensary, and there’s none in Rochester,” said Mike Dulen of A Walk in the Pines. “So, we have a good relationship with Herbal IQ and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do the showcase.’”

Dulen formerly worked as the “cannabis guy” on the strategy team for Constellation Brands and played a pivotal role in that company’s acquisition of the Canadian cannabis company Canopy. He launched Pines in 2018 as a side gig and later left Constellation to make it his full-time job.

He described growers showcases, like the one at Herbal IQ-Rochester, as a state-sanctioned loophole that allows new shops to open, at least temporarily, without violating the court injunction.

One of the products that will be featured at the cannabis showcase will be a gummies produced in Rochester by NOWAVE with flower grown by Pines. (photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
One of the products to be sold at Herbal IQ-Rochester will be gummies produced in Rochester by NOWAVE with flower grown by A Walk in the Pines.

The first such facility opened in New Paltz earlier this month.

Brian Lane, chief compliance officer at NoWave, was there to roll out his products. He said there are not enough dispensaries in New York for him to move the volume of goods he produces.

“Do you know what we’re moving here, guys?” Lane asked. “Maybe hundreds of units, and I got thousands sitting here.”

NoWave is a statewide licensed processor that produces products for about 10 different brands, including vaporizers and gummies for A Walk in the Pines under the brand name PINES, and pulls in flower from 25 different farms.

The operation is headquartered in a sleek, state-of-the-art compound in a business park on the west side of Monroe County. Inside its black modernist exterior is the cannabis equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Workers dressed in white sanitary garb toil in laboratory settings, processing neon-colored cubes of THC-infused vegan gummies. A water system allows the facility to de-ionize water and process it into bespoke mineral water for its Weed Water drinkables line. A yellow door on the far-side of the facility marks the portion of the property used for centrifuge ethanol extraction. The walls surrounding it are reinforced in case of explosion.

Brian Lane, Compliance Officer at NOWAVE, with cannabis grown by New York famers at the NOWAVE plant in Rochester .(photo by Max Schulte)
Max Schulte
Brian Lane, compliance officer at NOWAVE, with a bag containing 138 pounds of cannabis grown by New York farmers that is being stored at the NOWAVE plant in Rochester.

NoWave products are carried in nearly every legal dispensary in New York, of which there are currently 23, according to the state Office of Cannabis Management.

Lane said showcases like Herbal IQ-Rochester present two unique advantages: it allows product to get to market, and it gives producers a chance to see what moves.

“Showcases have a little more wiggle room” than the average dispensary, Lane said.

Under state law, cannabis flower has to comprise at least 65% of the products in showcases. Most of the flower at Herbal IQ-Rochester is expected to run between $40 and $50 per eighth of an ounce, depending on strain and grower, and including a 13% tax.

Herbal IQ-Rochester is scheduled to be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff 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.
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