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Since the late 1990’s the Castetter family have been pioneers in the New York Cannabis Industry. Now, as legal adult use cannabis begins to roll out in the Empire State, Kaelan Castetter, CEO of Empire Standard, Director of Policy Analysis at Castetter Cannabis Group, and Vice Chair at the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, has emerged as one of the leading voices advocating for an industry that is focused on the success of small business and customer satisfaction. From the excitement of being seated at the forefront of a brand new industry, to concerns about New York’s sluggish rollout, Kaelan shares the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to New York’s legalization process. Plus, we share the latest from Azuca, capped by an infused Tequila Sunrise recipe–inspired by the Wana Quick gummies line–to sip all summer long.
Q: How did you get started in the industry and what was it like doing business in New York pre-legalization?
A: My father started the first hemp infused wine when I was a kid back in 1997, and after a few years his permit was pulled by the federal government. When I was in college in 2015, I decided to restart the business with him and we actually got the first processor’s license in the entire state of New York. Since then it’s really been a thrill to watch the industry develop and start to transition from an informal marketplace to a formal business, and witness the hype around hemp transition to adult-use cannabis. It really is an exciting time in New York.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of working in a newly developing industry? What about the biggest advantages of being ‘one of the first’?
A: You don’t often get the opportunity to be at the precipice of a new industry; that is exciting and kind of amazing. Being first does come with its own challenges though. For instance, there is a lack of traditional resources that entrepreneurs in any other sector are able to access, such as banking and insurance options. Without a precedent, it is hard to anticipate how these service providers will react to your business and whether or not they even want to risk working with you. When navigating a new industry, you also don’t necessarily know what people’s intentions are and if they are joining the marketplace for the right reasons, so that’s an additional minefield you have to navigate.
Q: What are some mistakes you’ve seen other states make that you feel New York and future states who plan to legalize should avoid?
A: One of the top priorities is making sure there is a place for those who have been persecuted by the war on drugs. It is really important that they have a role in the industry. Also, there needs to be a conscious effort to encourage small business development and resist the consolidation and trends of anticompetitive behavior that we have seen in other states. New York needs to have an equitable and diverse industry that is driven by small businesses, not billionaires at the top.
Q: With the exception of Pennsylvania, New York is surrounded by states that are at varying stages of legalization. Some New Yorkers are concerned the state is lagging behind those neighbors. Do you think it’s important for New York to keep up with the pace of Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, etc. and do you think there are significant economic risks to falling behind?
A: There’s a huge economic risk of New York falling behind. We are already seeing many consumers driving across the border to purchase cannabis in Massachusetts, and we’ll see the same thing occur as New Jersey and Connecticut move more quickly than New York toward full legalization. New York tax revenue will suffer as consumers continue to cross state lines for cannabis purchases while New York slowly develops its rollout plan. Small businesses owners are also at risk in the state, as they likely are not in a financial position to wait a year or two for this all to come to fruition.
Q: What impact will consumption lounges and the ability for social consumption to take off have on the cannabis industry?
A: Cannabis is generally social by nature, especially right here in New York. New Yorkers will be looking for places where they can sit and consume, and they’re especially going to want to consume with their friends, similar to going to a bar. The idea of social consumption and all of the opportunities it brings represents perhaps the most exciting element in the future of New York’s cannabis industry.
Q: Legalization opens the door to innovation when it comes to cannabis products. How do you think the industry will evolve with businesses free to try and test new products and technologies?
A: Innovation is the name of the game, and fortunately New York is the hub of innovation for pretty much any industry you can think of. Now, the consumer is coming from a marketplace where they had very, very limited options that they could purchase in a very limited way. That means that as we become able to offer consumers a variety of different options, it’s going to be important to respond to their needs. That includes, of course, fast acting edibles because consumers don’t want to worry about a lag of multiple hours before they feel the effects and they don’t want to worry about taking doses that are too high or too low. I think innovation is going to be the key for these businesses, along with really understanding the consumer.
Q: Where do you hope to see the industry in 10 years? What about 20 or 30?
A: In 10 years I want to look back at New York and see that this industry has created a thousand millionaires and not one billionaire. I want us to be able to offer a lot of personal opportunities to entrepreneurs who really deserve it and haven’t had opportunities in other industries before. In 20 or 30 years, I believe the cannabis industry should look a lot like alcohol. I think one of the first steps to achieving that is larger scale de-stigmatization of cannabis, including a realization from regulators that adults should be able to consume cannabis responsibly, and it’s not the state or federal government’s job to make it harder to access. It’s important that cannabis be out of the hands of minors, but otherwise should be allowed to flourish just like alcohol has.
Kaelan Castetter is Director of Policy Analysis of Castetter Cannabis Group, a leader in the Empire State for management consulting, regulatory analysis, and policy research, assisting New York farmers in navigating the complex regulatory process. He also serves as CEO of Empire Standard which provides development, manufacturing, and fulfillment solutions for brands looking to produce quality and compliance-focused CBD products. Additionally, Kaelan helped co-found the New York Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, an organization that has become a powerful voice in Albany. Castetter is also heavily involved in discussions around adult-use cannabis legalization and was instrumental in crafting the Hemp Extract Bill during the 2019 legislative session.
High Life Farms announced its new fast acting Delta-9-THC effect dissolvable powder powered by Azuca’s Thermodynamic Individual Molecular Encapsulation (TiME INFUSION™) technology. Lift Off easily dissolves in any beverage, and offers consumers a doseable, user-friendly and discreet method to experience a smoker’s high, making it a great alternative for consumers who are averse to cannabis inhalables or the high induced by traditional edibles. Lift Off is now available in select Michigan dispensaries, and will expand into additional dispensaries later this month. Learn more here.
Wana Brands is redefining happy hour across the nation with their innovative Wana Quick line of fast-acting gummies. Azuca’s TiME INFUSION™ technology, the gummies are now available in Michigan and Oklahoma. Wana Quick gummies feature individually encapsulated Delta-9-THC cannabinoids with greater bioavailability, bypassing the liver and entering the bloodstream immediately. You can learn more about the “Summer of Quick” here.
Azuca’s Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Chef Ron Silver, was recently featured in Muse by Clio, detailing his experience in both the culinary and cannabis worlds. Silver discusses the impact cannabis has had on his life, the challenges of navigating the cannabis market, and some of Azuca’s recent projects. Read more here.
Newly promoted Azuca Vice President of Partnerships and Production William “Will” Widmaier was recently featured in the Albuquerque Business Journal. In the Q&A, Will discusses the impact he feels edibles will have on the New Mexico adult-use cannabis industry. Read more here.
Summer isn’t over just yet, and we are celebrating Wana Brands’ new Colorado Sunrise Wana Quick gummies powered by AZUCA TiME INFUSION™ technology! Colorado friends can try the newest Wana Quick flavor at their local dispensary, but until the rest of the country has access to those delicious gummies, this infused Tequila Sunrise recipe offers 25 mg of CBD per serving so you can kick back and relax. Head to our Instagram for a recipe demo as well!
Makes 1 drink, 25 mg Azuca CBD
Arkansas: In Arkansas, activists are spearheading a campaign to get adult-use cannabis legalization on the ballot for 2022. The group, called Arkansas True Grass, proposes sales for adults 21+ and Arkansas activists are collecting signatures to place adult-use cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot. The group currently has 10,000 of the 89,151 signatures they’ll need by July of 2022 to make the ballot. (Source: Marijuana Moment)
Ohio: In Ohio, cannabis legalization faced a significant setback after a proposal by a group called ‘Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’ was rejected by State Attorney General Dave Yost. The proposal hoped to allow adults over the age of 21 to possess, purchase, and grow cannabis; however Yost said there were several deficiencies in the wording of the proposed bill which led to its rejection. The group plans to correct those deficiencies and resubmit in the near future. (Source: cincinnati.com)
New York, New Jersey: In New York State as well as New Jersey, one of the top stories when it comes to legalization is the ongoing debate among individual municipalities over whether or not they will allow commercial sales of cannabis within their own boundaries. Communities can opt in or out, and many will include the option on their ballots this fall. According to the New York Times, larger cities like Buffalo, NY and Atlantic City, NJ are enthusiastic about the prospect of welcoming cannabis sales, and many smaller cities like Warwick, NY are equally supportive. Yet Point Pleasant Beach, NJ on the other hand, has voted against it. In New York, cities must decide by December 31. (Source: The New York Times)
Federal Update: Federal legalization took a significant step in late July with the release of the first draft of a Senate bill to legalize cannabis nationwide being introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The bill would federally legalize cannabis, expunge prior convictions and allow for resentencing and maintain the authority for states to set their own cannabis policies. The US Senate is seeking public feedback on the bill through September 1. (Source: Marijuana Moment)
We are committed to help make the CBD and cannabis community a fair and equitable place for all. A portion of all Azuca proceeds are donated in support of Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working to bring restorative justice to the cannabis industry and dedicated to releasing those incarcerated for cannabis and helping them rebuild their lives. Learn more and support this great cause here.