In a coup for Orange County, a repurposed prison will soon become a hub for medical/recreational cannabis cultivation and production.
Mid-Hudson Correctional Facility, along with several other prisons, was shuttered in July 2011 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Fat the time, former Warwick Town Attorney John Hicks called Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, urging him to buy the prison’s 150 acres scheduled to be added to the state’s surplus property list. “Don’t let this opportunity slip by,” Hicks advised Sweeton. “The property is too important to let sit and rot.”
Sweeton paid heed, gathering a cohort to form a local development corporation (LDC) and borrowing $10 million to buy the property. It was a move that has proved to be a fortuitous one.
Fast forward 11 years to Sept. 9, 2021: Ben Kovler, the founder of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, was joined by Sweeton and other state and local dignitaries at the groundbreaking for GTI’s first cannabis growing facility in New York on the former prison grounds, which was renamed Wickham Woods.
GTI now joins Citiva, Urban Xtracts, Kaycha Labs and Phyto Pharma Labs, companies in various stages of development on that part of the prison property set aside for the Warwick Valley Office & Technology Corporate Park. There was $2 million spent to install water, sewer, electricity and cable to accommodate its future tenants.
Kovler, whose family traces its business roots to the liquor industry, is well versed in the marketing and delivering products to the public. New York is the 15th state in which GTI has established operations. His enthusiasm for the project — and for its location — were apparent.
“As we’ve seen the country embrace cannabis as a means for well-being and an alternative option for folks for both medical and adult use, we’re proud to partner here with Warwick.”
The groundbreaking marks the first phase of GTI’s $60 million production facility. It expects the next two phases of construction to be rolled out shortly. Upon completion, the total campus will come in at approximately$150 million.
“We’re going to grow cannabis products: grow flower indoors and make consumer products here,” Kovler said. “perhaps one day, tap into that legendary ‘black soil’ that has some amazing powers … and we are going to need a lot of people. There is plenty of opportunity for advancement and training in our business…as you’ve heard mention, it’s not just dollars.”
An estimated 150 to 200 jobs with benefits will be created by GTI’s entry into the business park, with many of those new jobs ranging in the six-figure category.
Kovler said the main reason his company chose Warwick was the community buy-in. “We want to be somewhere we’re welcomed…we feel it and now we’re going to put our stamp on it….and bring business and velocity here. We are long-term investors — that’s how I built the business. We’re making a long-term bet on Warwick and the Hudson Valley, what we can do for jobs, industry and where this is going for the country.
“The irony of building a cannabis facility on prison grounds is not lost on us. We understand what happened with the ‘war on drugs’…we are going to flip that by bringing credibility and ‘credentialize’ the industry. Change is in the air. We are going from a place where people used to be locked up for marijuana, their freedom taken away, to where we can employ people, enable opportunity and create a positive economic environment …we want to serve New Yorkers with unbelievable cannabis from Warwick,” said GTI’s founder.
Kovler expects the project to be fully operational by 2023.
The debate over marijuana continues, but New York’s current challenge is to license and regulate a plant promoted for its health benefits and demonized as “devil’s weed” and a gateway drug.
Banned by Congress 85 years ago — over objections from the American Medical Association and a legion of doctors who touted its use — the ancient plant has been rechristened with its medical name cannabis — a moniker growers and retailers find more user-friendly in the marketplace.
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