Icilio "Bill" Bianchi at his 10-acre flower farm orchid greenhouse...

Icilio "Bill" Bianchi at his 10-acre flower farm orchid greenhouse in Riverhead in 2020. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Long Island's newest pot farmer is a 91-year-old former Suffolk assemblyman who says he's never used the stuff.

The state Cannabis Control Board, which oversees medical and recreational marijuana policy, voted last week to issue "conditional" cultivation licenses to two Suffolk businesses: Peconic Growers LLC, run by second-generation gardener and former Assemb. Icilio "Bill" Bianchi, and Brian V. Klug.

“Honestly, I have never used cannabis myself," said Bianchi, who served 11 years as a Democrat in the Assembly until 1994.

With the new licensees, Long Island has nine entities allowed to grow marijuana for the general market. The board has issued 162 conditional cultivation licenses statewide and will continue accepting applications through the end of June. 

To qualify for this credential, farmers must have grown hemp, which comes from the same plant as marijuana, but contains less of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound that produces a high. Recipients may grow cannabis for two years and manufacture and distribute the flower — where THC is concentrated — until next June.

Bianchi plans to dedicate 40% of his greenhouse space in Riverhead to cultivating cannabis through Peconic Growers LLC. He anticipates investing $100,000 to $200,000 in the new crop.

"We're excited to be part of a very fast-growing industry," said Bianchi, who worked at his father's orchid company in East Patchogue and in 1998 launched his own company, Bianchi-Davis Greenhouse. "We're in it for the long haul." 

Bianchi said his business weighed whether to grow tomatoes or hemp with greenhouse space that opened up when his firm shifted some of its orchid operations to Florida. They wound up investing about $100,000 in hemp. 

But the firm never got the chance to convert its crop into CBD — a nonpsychoactive hemp derivative that's believed to provide wellness benefits. The market was simply too saturated, according to Bianchi.

"It was not a financially successful venture," Bianchi said. "But if we had done tomatoes, we might not have been successful there either. When you’re in private business, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

Klug didn't respond to requests for comment.

Bianchi anticipates offering up his first crop of cannabis in late September or October. The state aims to issue conditional retail licenses in time for dispensaries to open before the end of 2022.

The board hasn't voted yet on the proposed conditional retail license. This credential would be available to New Yorkers who have experience running a successful business and who have — or are related to someone who has — a marijuana-related conviction. 

The conditional retail license is part of the state's efforts to establish an equitable industry, where the people harmed by the prohibition of marijuana aren't sidelined. The government will also prioritize residents of communities with historically high cannabis arrest rates, minority- and women-owned businesses, disabled veterans and distressed farmers. 

The state is planing a $200 million public-private fund that can help the first batch of so-called "social equity" businesses find, renovate and lease dispensary space.

Licensed pot growers

These Long Island businesses and individuals have received conditional cultivator licenses to grow marijuana for general use.

  • East End Flower Farm Ltd., Suffolk County
  • Route 27 Hopyard LLC, Moriches 
  • Plant Connection Inc., Suffolk County 
  • WJF Farms LLC, Cutchogue 
  • Jennifer Digney-Bihm, Cutchogue
  • Island Grow LLC, Suffolk County
  • Bridgehampton Loam LLC, Suffolk County 
  • Peconic Growers LLC, Riverhead
  • Brian V Klug, Suffolk County 

Source: New York State Office of Cannabis Management

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