As the reality of legalized recreational marijuana sinks into our collective consciousness, it’s easy to believe the state’s troubles disappeared in a haze of smoke. We’re not quite there yet.

The legalization of marijuana poses fertile fields of opportunity for New York farmers, but some are questioning how a new state management board slated to set thresholds and make decisions will affect the cannabis-growing industry and local agriculture.

Some local farmers are waiting to get in on the action of growing the newly approved crop. Jerry Peele, of Herondale Farm in Ancramdale, for example, has a permit to grow hemp and has been growing it for the past two years.

Peele’s hemp farm has sustained some good yields, but results have been mixed in terms of crop sales. The first year, Peele did well because he signed a contract with a processor. He struggled to obtain contracts before last year’s growing season and with a market surplus that made it difficult for him to sell his product.

Peele is researching the way to obtain a license to grow marijuana and what it would cost to maintain both the hemp and cannabis ventures.

Others are less optimistic that legalization will help the local economy or agricultural industry.

Former farmer Eric deLong owned Foxtail Community Farm in Greenville, which closed down about three years ago. The closing cast doubt that legalization will help local farmers who run small operations.

“My understanding in Colorado is it very quickly became a large-scale commercial production where they thought perhaps small farmers might be able to create a niche in the growing of hemp and marijuana and they were quickly out-competed by large corporations,” deLong said. “There are no small farmers legally growing marijuana, so it won’t hurt them in that respect, but I don’t think legalization will help them. The state is saying this will create income for small-scale farmers, but I don’t see that happening.”

Hemp and cannabis for recreational marijuana are distinct, separate crops. Growing THC cannabis, or cannabis with marijuana’s psychoactive chemical that causes a person to feel the high, requires different licenses and regulations. The Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Advisory Board will decide several details, including how much of the crop a farm can grow.

New Yorkers are too close to the beginning of this new venture to see where it is heading. Farmers have practical issues to resolve before jumping in with both feet. Yes, there is profit to be made, so the state says, but farmers have to weigh their own personal, ethical matters. The sea change brought about by legalized marijuana has just begun. We’re still figuring things out.

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