Women entrepreneurs to seek Woodstock license for recreational marijuana sales

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A group of entrepreneurs and social justice advocates believes it is poised to become Woodstock’s first recreational marijuana dispensary once the state opens applications for licenses for such facilities.

“We want a dispensary that Woodstock could be proud of, and that’s a good neighbor and contributes to the town. We just decided in order to have that we’d have to do it ourselves,” said Eliza Kunkel, who along with Erin Cadigan and Lisa Montanus, hope to open Illuminated Leaf at 33 Rock City Road. Each partner of the all-woman-owned business has specific roles and for now, Kunkel will be in charge of social justice, equity, operations and compliance.

“For me I’ve long been kind of a marijuana advocate in the fact that I believe in legalization as well as release of criminal charges and expungement,” said Cadigan.

“I myself actually am not a cannabis user since probably my 20s, but I have worked in the legacy market for over a decade.”

It is important, Cadigan added “to keep it out of the hands of multi-state and multinational corporations who see it just as a way to make money…I like to think of what we specifically are doing as kind of a for-profit company with a not-for-profit heart. We have an extremely strong social equity plan, both what we’re planning to do with our hiring practices and pay, as well as our community give-back. 

“Our corporate percentage for philanthropy is going to start at 3% and hoping to hit 5% by year five. Included, of course, are the town taxes, which will just really be great revenue for the town of Woodstock,” said Cadigan, who is in charge of marketing and branding.

“I feel like we all believe that it’s important that we are locals that we’re bringing our own connections to the community into the business,” said Montanus, who is director of community outreach and education. “We all share the same values. We’re very much about contributing and giving back to the community. And that excites me as well.” 

The dispensary will not just be a retail operation. A big focus will be on education.

“We’re going to provide workshops and informational sessions for people to come and learn about all things related to cannabis. What’s happening with the laws in New York State? Once we’re open, what products will be available for people to consume? How can they consume the products? How to talk to your kids about cannabis,” Montanus said. “We want to be transparent and we want to provide enough information as we possibly can for people, so we’ll be having outside speakers come in.”

Illuminated Leaf’s focus will be on normalization, said Cadigan.

Cadigan’s husband, Martin Mills, has been involved in cannabis prohibition reform.

“Cannabis can do so much good for this country. Everybody, even people who don’t have anything to do with cannabis could benefit from the financial side of it, and the tax revenue,” Mills said.

“I was working on the MRTA (Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act) to get passed into law. And once it did, I wanted to stay within the cannabis space. And this is a great group of local Woodstock, citizens that all kind of feel the same way, and they want to have this business benefit the town as much as possible.”

Montanus’ husband, Jeff Collins, got involved in marijuana legalization five years ago because of the economic advantages of bringing more business to the state and help farmers.

“And we’re finally getting there. I think that we can see already the beginnings of an economic boom, based on this plant,” Collins said.

“We’ve seen it with hemp. We’ve seen increasing businesses around hemp, and I just wish we had this earlier. I’ve been working on this for a long time and it’s frustrating to I think all of us how long it took to get a bill signed by the governor, and how long it took to get the cannabis board approved,” he said.

Collins praised Gov. Kathy Hochul for the speed at which she has worked.

“The current governor has really pushed things through and is pushing things as fast as she can do it. And we appreciate that because she, I think, sees the value of it and isn’t scared by it,” Collins said. “This is so important for economics and for social justice. We have incarcerated people for decades around a stupid prohibition of a plant that should never have been prohibited.”

And so far, there is no pushback from the town. Each municipality has to actively opt out of dispensaries and lounges by year’s end or it is automatically opted in. To date, town government has not signaled it intends to opt out. This is Woodstock after all, they said. “That would be like Chicago opting out of beef,” Collins said.

Federal prohibition poses challenges

Dispensaries throughout the country have been denied bank accounts and credit card processing services because marijuana is still banned by federal law. This in many cases makes dispensaries cash businesses, which poses logistical and security challenges. Illuminated Leaf is no different. “It’s definitely a challenge. There’s more opportunities than there were, but there continue to be very few opportunities,” Collins said. 

“Originally,” Cadigan said, “I was like, everything should be legal. It should be legal. It should be federally legal. Now looking at the corporate vultures waiting in the wings, that has become part more of my attention, that I would really like to see every state go legal, come up with their own ideas and freedoms for their citizens…For the federal government to declassify, deschedule marijuana would really be a great starting point, because it would take a lot of those pressures off, like banks that operate federally and things like that without allowing the Philip Morrises of the country to come in and just knock out all the small players.”

New York law considered most progressive

Kunkel praised the state legislation. “That’s the great thing with the New York bill, just how progressive the Marijuana Legalization Act was and yeah, I don’t think we’d be trying to open a dispensary if New York hadn’t passed such a progressive law,” she said.

Cadigan agreed.

“They’ve really done their due diligence, I believe, at looking at what has gone on for other states…[who] were like, it’s legal, but then…allowed for 50 dispensaries by one company and vertical integration. New York State doesn’t allow any of that,” she said. “New York State is promising that 50% of their licenses will be going to social equity candidates, and they already have kind of legislation around what that means. Is it women? Is it black or brown? Is it economic? Is it someone who’s done time or been punished for having been involved with marijuana? They kind of cover all those bases…and then they also are not going to give a license to someone to farm and then manufacture and then dispense,” Cadigan said.

“I believe they’ll have five types of licenses, farming, manufacturing, licensing, delivery and on-site consumption. And I believe the only two out of the five that could possibly be married, are retail and delivery.”

By only allowing dispensary companies to apply for three licenses, it will, they believe, prevent anyone from becoming the Starbucks of dispensaries.

Product selection is in the works

Regulations on applications are in the works by the Office of Cannabis Management, so product selection is an uncertainty.

“We anticipate to have a good variety of flower, edible, vape cartridges…We want to carry as many products as the market has available, and we want to hit the price points for value customers and premium customers. We want to kind of have this space available to all people looking to consume cannabis,” Mills said.

“In terms of the products that we will carry, it depends on who gets licensed by New York State. So the growers and processors are going get licensed before the dispensaries. We’ve already started making connections and agreements with potential growers and we’ll continue to do that,” Kunkel said.

Dispensaries can only buy product from inside New York. Marijuana cannot cross state boundaries due to federal regulations.

Not a hangout for vagrants, teens and ne’er-do-wells

“There will be protocols on who can come in the store and how the process has to work. Each person who comes in the store, I’m expecting, will be giving their ID and we’ll have to collect that ID. We’ll work to match the ID with the actual box that they buy,” Collins said, “So we know, if this is found in a 12-year-old’s hands, we didn’t sell it to the 12-year-old.”

By law, no smoking will be allowed within a certain perimeter of a dispensary. Smoking will be allowed in lounges, but Illuminated Lead will not be applying for a lounge license.

“So this isn’t going to become the corner to hang out and smoke weed and find teenagers,” Cadigan said.

Mills said one of the benefits of this being a new industry is the available technology to assist with security and accountability.

“Everything’s going to be coded to every person who buys it. If it ends up in the wrong hands, it should be very easily tracked back to the person who bought it,” Mills said.

Space will be open while waiting for application process

“One of the things that we feel it’s important to do now, anticipating that we’ll become a licensed dispensary, is to help educate the consumer,” Mills said. “We also have art and vintage goods in here, so we can maybe cover some of our building expenses and entice people to come in. We’re starting to bring in more cannabis-focused retail items, books, educational materials, CBD items, accessories, and that kind of thing.”

The first event will be December 11 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Montanus moderating a panel discussion on cannabis products in New York.

Panelists will include Amy Hepworth of Hepworth Farms in Milton, who will be discussing what products they plan to produce; and Martha McDermott, cannabis outreach educator and former head of patient relations for Etain medical marijuana products.

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