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A medical marijuana company that employs 35 workers at its manufacturing facility in Fulton County could hire hundreds more, depending what legislation New York lawmakers pass this year.

If recreational cannabis is legalized, or if more patients become eligible to use medical marijuana, Vireo Health could hire more people, said chief operating officer Ari Hoffnung. That would depend on the language of whatever law is passed.

“I think ultimately we can bring hundreds of jobs to Fulton County,” Hoffnung said. “It would be a game-changer with favorable adult-use legislation or a significant expansion of the medical program in terms of adding jobs there.”

The company would look at further investments, too, depending if new laws are passed.

“If the changes are favorable to us, and please underline the word if, we would consider investing more funds in our manufacturing facility, expanding our manufacturing facility, and adding more jobs,” he said.

If recreational marijuana is regulated to the same extent as medical products, Vireo could sell existing products to more customers.

“From our medical team’s perspective, a lot of the so-called recreational customers are actually consuming cannabis for health and wellness reasons so conditions like stress, anxiety, insomnia are serious quality-of-life issues,” Hoffnung said. “We believe that adult-use consumers would benefit from having the types of products and services that are available to medical cannabis patients at this time.”

“From our medical team’s perspective, a lot of the so-called recreational customers are actually consuming cannabis for health and wellness reasons so conditions like stress, anxiety, insomnia are serious quality-of-life issues,” Hoffnung said. “We believe that adult-use consumers would benefit from having the types of products and services that are available to medical cannabis patients at this time.”

Hoffnung said he’s still reviewing the proposals to legalize recreational marijuana to see how they could impact Vireo.

“The devil is in the details,” he said.

Vireo’s cultivation and manufacturing plant is in the Tryon Technology Park in Johnstown. The company has a dispensary at 38 Fuller Road in Albany. The company is headquartered in Minneapolis, with operations in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Vireo makes products from a $99 vaporizer starter kit; to oil for vaporization, which can cost up to $250 for 2 milliliters; to oral solutions for up to $165 per 12.5-milliliter bottle.

Customers pay out of pocket for medical marijuana. Hoffnung says certain legal changes would help him lower his prices. That includes making it legal to sell the flower of the cannabis plant in dispensaries, which would be less expensive than extract-based products.

“We do recognize the fact that our product is expensive,” he said. “We hope over time, with flower and with other regulatory changes, the prices will come down.”

About 90,000 patients in New York are certified to use medical marijuana, and 2,000 providers are able to prescribe it. Vireo could grow its business if more patients are made eligible to use medical cannabis.

“If new regulations that expand patients are passed, then we would expect robust growth,” Hoffnung said.

News and Special Updates A medical marijuana company that employs 35 workers at its manufacturing facility in Fulton County could hire hundreds more, depending what legislation New York lawmakers

Medical marijuana harvest begins in Fulton County

New York’s first legal medical marijuana harvest in about a century is happening in an unassuming, one-story white building at a former youth detention center in the rural expanses of Fulton County.

The building, at the Tryon Technology Park and Incubator Center in the town of Perth, is surrounded by dozens of other low white buildings, slowly being overgrown by weeds even as the county repurposes the 515-acre campus and looks for new tenants.

The medical marijuana facility, run by Vireo Health of New York, was the only building showing signs of life on Thursday.

Inside, Director of Horticulture Chuck Schmitt plucked the leaves from a partially dehydrated cannabis plant and slipped a label over the stalk before sending it to the drying room.

After about 16 weeks of growing and flowering, hundreds of cannabis plants, all heavy with cannabinoid-rich flowers, were on their way Thursday to the final stages of the production process at Vireo Health’s fledgling Fulton County facility.

“We’re unbelievably excited to be actively participating in the first legal harvest in New York in probably a century,” said Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Vireo Health of New York, formerly Empire State Health Solutions. “This really shows that we’re on a timeline to get the patients medication as soon as possible.”

Starting as cuttings in the cloning room, the plants spend about eight weeks under the constant yellow glare of high-pressure sodium lights before moving to another room where they receive 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark to promote flowering.

“You can see these look a lot more like the standard cannabis plants that you see,” Kingsley said standing behind a row of tall, pungent plants in the flowering room, pointing out the relatively small parts that actually contain medicinal chemicals. “You grow this massive, bulky plant, but all that matters is this little tiny organ.”

When ready, the plants are then dried for about five days before being pulverized and then undergoing a carbon dioxide extraction process. Finally, they go to the lab — still under construction behind a door of plywood and plastic — where they’re turned into medicine to treat things like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses.

Vireo Health, which has already set up a medical marijuana operation in Minnesota under regulations similar to New York’s, was one of the five companies awarded a medical marijuana license by the state Department of Health in August.

The other four licenses went to Bloomfield Industries in Queens County, Columbia Care NY in Monroe County, Etain in Warren County, and PharmaCann in Orange County.

Kingsley has planned from the start to produce medical marijuana products by the first week in January, and said Thursday that’s still the plan, despite Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signing a law the day before allowing expedited delivery in serious cases.

“We’re very focused on our timeline to get medication to patients as soon as we can,” he said. “And we’ll work with the Department of Health to accelerate that to any extent possible. But there’s a lot of things that need to be done still so our goal has been the first week of January all along.”

Kingsley is not sure exactly how much medicine the first crop will yield by January, but he’s confident it will be enough. Based on his experience in Minnesota, he said he expects the number of patients registered to receive medical marijuana in January to be in the hundreds, a thousand at most.

“That will grow with time,” he said. “I think that this is a viable law. I think that this is going to be a successful program. Similar to Minnesota, there’s going to be a slow start. But this is a successful framework. It’s very safe, very medically-oriented, very patient-oriented.”

The Vireo facility, where two big rooms are filled with four long hydroponic tables covered with lush cannabis plants, is currently staffed by four cultivators. Kingsley said they’re working on filling out a laboratory team and expect to have about 20 chemists working on-site over the next few months.

They’re also planning to build a new 20,000-square-foot greenhouse out back, which Kingsley isn’t even sure they’ll need until demand picks up.

Under the Compassionate Care Act, which legalized medical marijuana in New York, Vireo will have to produce medical marijuana in the form of liquids and oils for vaporization, capsules, or other forms of non-smoking ingestion.

Kingsley said the medicine will cost more than its illegal counterpart due to the stringent quality control and regulation involved. He expects the average user to pay about $300 to $500 a month for the medication, but said it could range from under $100 a month to about $1,000 a month depending on the illness and the patient.

As they prepare their first harvest, the Vireo team has been working closely with the Department of Health, Kingsley said, with phone calls several times a week and weekly meetings and regular on-site inspections.

“We’ve been very surprised with the responsiveness and the great interactions that we’ve had [with the Department of Health],” he said. “They’re appropriately stringent in what they’re requiring, in their oversight, but they’re also very helpful and very collaborative.”

The company plans to open four dispensaries: Johnson City, Colonie, White Plains and Elmhurst.

Once the medicine hits the market, there will still be plenty of adjustments to be made, Kingsley knows. Doctors will have to become comfortable with prescribing it; some residents will have to get used to having a medical marijuana dispensary in their neighborhood; insurance companies may need some convincing to cover it.

Kingsley and others on his team are working on all those fronts.

Chief Medical Officer Stephen Dahmer has been meeting with doctors across the state to discuss prescribing medical marijuana, and said the reception so far has been “great.”

“I think as doctors learn about the potential benefits, the tide is shifting,” he said.

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