Above the Fray: The Business of Selling Marijuana in New York


By Owen Petrie

The State of New York has reportedly received 43 applications from companies seeking one of the five spots New York will make available to prospective marijuana dispensaries. 

Drugs, of any variety, have always been big business in the United States, and the highly regulated, state-sanctioned sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes won’t be any different. The quintet of companies that will get the government’s blessing to sell marijuana in the Empire State will have undergone a stringent application and weeding out process (sorry, some puns write themselves) and face a restrictive regulatory environment in which to conduct business.

As billionaire business mogul and legal marijuana advocate, Richard Branson — who wrote that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones taught him how to roll a joint; and that he smoked weed with his son during his gap year [a year between high school and college] — could tell you, marijuana can bring together all manner of disparate people and groups. The myriad confederation of physicians, politicians, business people, and other assorted professionals vying for a shot to bring herbal healing to the people is no different. 

What are the outliers that differentiate the 43 aspiring weed dealers; what separates the wheat from the chaff — or the stem from the leaf, as it were?


Community Support
Alliances and strategic associations are necessary components of any business success, but for long-term viability, the support of a local community is essential.

Scientific Herbal Advances, LLC., for example, plans to initially hire about 50 people in Goshen, NY, in Orange County, for farming and processing their crops. The County will receive about 1.6% of the 7% excise tax New York will levy against the dispensaries, and Goshen will receive an influx of jobs and the resultant economic boost that the increased productivity will bring. The Goshen Town Board has thrown its support behind Scientific Herbal Advances and the 9-acre site they plan to develop.


From the standpoint of optics, alone, it is important that the process of legitimizing a crop that had been outlawed for over a century, not be perceived as unfair, unbalanced and stacked against the inclusion of a representative population.

In short, in a situation where minority populations have been decimated by America’s “war on drugs” and the incarceration of many of its denizens for non-violent drug offenses, it is paramount that in a crowded field of established white owned companies, well qualified minority and woman owned businesses are at the forefront. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if the state saw fit to show true fairness in the application process instead of once again conferring success and exclusivity to the same good ol’ boys network.

Scientific Herbal Advances, for instance, is a minority-held business, owned by Dr. Ramesh Sawhney, a New York City physician with over 30 years experience in anesthesia and pain management. Dr. Sawhney currently owns Irving Place Surgery and Wellness Center in Manahattan; and Dr. Nina Bahardwaj, a leading cancer researcher.

SHA is also comprised of an ethnically diverse group of officers from various business disciplines who are equally impressive and esteemed within their respective fields, including Eldridge Hawkins, Scientific Herbal Advances’ Chief Security Officer/VP of Government Affairs. Hawkins is mayor emeritus of Orange Township, NJ, a retired police officer and current owner of BBSI, a security firm licensed in New York.

Dr. Sawhney has previously stated that he believes medicinal marijuana should be administered and monitored by real MD's whose fealty is to the Hippocratic oath and not big business.  

Sawhney's own mother, who resides in California, suffers from Alzheimers. Doctor Sawhney says he has personally witnessed medicinal marijuana's positive effects on her cognitive abilities.


Above Reproach
The legitimization of cannabis will be an evolving but still precarious process. That is why it is essential that even the perception of impropriety be avoided.

Among the curious, but not peculiar bedfellows hoping for one of the five slots is the non-profit, Greater New York Hospital Association, which is partnered with the Durst Organization, one of the oldest residential and commercial real estate companies in New York City.

Although registered as a 501(c)(3) enterprise, the Greater New York Hospital Association created a for-profit subsidiary called, GNYHA Ventures in an effort to get into the weed game.

If you’re not familiar with New York City real estate dynasties, you may recognize the Durst name from HBO’s “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” the cable companies documentary about Robert Alan Durst, the son of New York City real estate mogul Seymour Durst and a brother of commercial developer Douglas Durst.

He was acquitted for the murder of his wife and essentially slapped oh, so delicately on the wrist for the killing and dismemberment of a former business associate.

On March 14, 2015, following the HBO showing, Durst was rearrested in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the murder of long-time friend, Susan Berman.

Durst has a long history of criminal malfeasance and shenanigans. His is a case study of privilege and the opportunities afforded a select few in America.

It is an association that the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Durst Organization could do without.

Whoever the State of New York selects to dispense its cannabis, those companies would do well to be beyond reproach and above the fray.

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