New marijuana facility breaks ground at former Hudson Valley prison

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As cannabis cultivation grows in Warwick, the town debates whether to allow dispensaries.

What was once a medium-security prison that housed about 1,000 inmates in Warwick will become a fully operating cannabis cultivation site by 2023.

In this year’s legislative session, New York legalized adult recreational use of marijuana, prompting manufacturers to begin developing plans for cannabis growing and production sites in the region. In the Town of Wawarsing, Cresco Labs last month proposed a cannabis cultivation facility, promising 300 to 400 jobs once construction starts in 2022.

It’s sort of a full circle moment,” said CEO and founder of Green Thumb Industries Ben Kovler. “The whole concept of the cannabis business built on top of doing what we’re doing for gainful employment does not make a lot of sense,” he explained, given the country’s historic criminalization of marijuana. “The fact there are still people in jail across the nation is a problem.” Kolver said that Green Thumb wants to continue to employ people who have been incarcerated, as they have done at other facilities.

Before it was a prison, the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility site was home to the Warwick State Training School for Boys, founded in the 1920s and supported by Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt.

The company has made an investment of $150 million to refurbish and remodel the Orange County site, which will create at least 100 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions with benefits for those who work at the facility once it’s complete.  

“There is massive opportunity upwards, from salaried positions with supervisors, operational roles, all the way up to general managers,” said Kovler of the jobs to come. “This is the time for people with passion and skills to learn it, and we can create a long-time career for folks.”

Green Thumb has been in discussion with the Town of Warwick since 2020, but the marijuana company officially purchased the 40 acres of former prison grounds for $3.3 million in May of this year, after the Orange County Industrial Development Agency approved a 15-year tax abatement for Green Thumb. The $3.3 million purchase covered the town’s remaining debt on the cost of the prison property from the state.

Local and state officials joined Green Thumb Industries Founder and CEO Ben Kovler for a groundbreaking ceremony this week.

Local and state officials joined Green Thumb Industries Founder and CEO Ben Kovler for a groundbreaking ceremony this week. (image credit: Everett Collie)

“They’ve been an unbelievable partner,” said Kovler. “They were looking what to do with this prison site … and how to drive jobs and other things. They sought out the cannabis idea, and it was a match that worked well. They rolled out the red carpet for us, and we’re going to deliver on our side with big investments and lots of jobs.”

During the first of its three phases, the company will earmark 58,000 square feet of the 200,000 square foot space for growing marijuana, and the rest will be used for processing, offices and storage. Kovler said the first construction phase is planned to be completed within a year. Following construction, planting will begin mid-year 2022, with product ready by 2023; this means Green Thumb’s products would be ready for sale around the same time the state predicted recreational dispensaries would be able to open.  

Other cannabis facilities in Orange County include PharmaCann, which cultivates medical marijuana in Hamptonburgh and plans to expand into recreational cannabis production.

As marijuana manufacturing takes root in the region, Town of Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton said the town board is still debating whether it will opt out of allowing on-site cannabis consumption at cafes and marijuana dispensaries. Currently three local laws are on the table. The first, which is expected to pass at Thursday’s meeting, prohibits smoking of any kind on public property. The second would ban on-site consumption at smoking lounges but permit dispensaries in certain areas. The third local law would create an overlay district to define commercial areas of the town for which dispensaries will be allowed.

While the state has legalized adult-use cannabis, local governments have until December 31 to decide whether to allow or opt out of having a dispensary or smoking lounges inside their towns.

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