More cannabis industry job training comes to campus

JOHNSTOWN – A company called E29 Labs that wants to build a cannabis cultivation and production facility at the site of the former Beech-Nut factory in Canajoharie has signed a partnership agreement with Fulton-Montgomery Community College to train cannabis workers.

FMCC, as it is also known, already teaches courses on cannabis cultivation and lab work, so it is no stranger to the cannabis industry, which already has a foothold in Fulton County. A medical marijuana company called Vireo Health has a grow facility at the Tryon Industrial Park in Johnstown, and Vireo is already planning a significant expansion.

The terms cannabis and marijuana are generally used interchangeably. However, cannabis plants include not just marijuana, which contains the compound THC that can cause a high when smoked or ingested, but also hemp, which is used in foods, clothing and building materials, and to produce CBD, a medicinal compound that doesn’t make users high.

FMCC held a press conference on Thursday to announce the partnership, which college officials said was one of the first educational agreements it had ever signed with a privately held company.

E29 is run by Shelley Roberts and her brother, Sheldon Roberts, along with Michael Dundas, an attorney who has operated and sold a cannabis company in Massachusetts.

The Roberts are from downstate, growing up in Harlem in New York City. They had previously pursued a hemp farming project upstate before seeking to obtain a license as a cannabis producer in Canajoharie.

Montgomery County, where Canajoharie is located, is very bullish on E29’s plan, in part because the Beech-Nut site has been vacant for so long. Officials on Thursday noted Montgomery County may not become a huge area for retail marijuana sales, but wholesale production and distribution have the potential to create hundreds of jobs, or more. Medical marijuana was legalized in New York state in 2014, and while recreational use was legalized last fall, regulations for that part of the industry are still being worked out.

“Many of us still have misconceptions about the regulated cannabis industry and what it is, I know I did just a few short years ago,” Shelley Roberts said at the press conference. “But what I and so many others have discovered, is that regulated cannabis, far from being a gateway drug, can be a gateway to success.”

There are a lot of hurdles to pass for Roberts and E29. The company still needs to get approval from the state for its cannabis production facility in Canajoharie. And it’s unclear how new recreational marijuana firms will compete with medical marijuana companies, which have control of the state’s dispensaries thus giving them “vertical” control of the retail distribution system in New York.

But officials in Montgomery County are just glad that E29 has chosen Canajoharie for its indoor cultivation plant, which offers the promise of jobs that left when Beech-Nut moved to a new facility in the nearby town of Florida.

“There is hope once again,” said Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort.

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