The Promise of Legalization: Former Prison Converted into Cannabis Grow Facility

By Bill Weinberg

At Farmer and the Felon, we talk a lot about the importance of freeing non-violent cannabis drug offenders. It’s a cause that’s near to our heart, and we’ll continue this advocacy work until the last prisoner of the Drug War is free.

But today, we don’t want to talk about the horrific injustices that need to end. We want to talk about the positive things that have room to grow when those injustices are removed.

Prison Town No More

About an hour northwest of New York City is the town of Warwick, NY. Until 2011, Warwick was a “prison town,” economically dominated by the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. 

Today this facility, which once held thousands of men convicted of small-scale drug charges, is set to breathe new economic life into the community — thanks to one of the very substances that once landed inmates there. In this struggling town, the closed prison is being converted into a cannabis grow facility, raising hopes for an economic renaissance.

From Incarceration to Jobs

The local Warwick Advertiser reports that the site first opened in the 1930s as a reform school for troubled boys. It was converted to a prison in 1979. In July 2011, then Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that it was to be one of seven prisons closed in a cost-saving move. And in 2014, New York authorities approved the transfer of the property to the Warwick Valley Local Development Corporation.

When the prison closed, Warwick lost 450 jobs. But now a Chicago-based cannabis company has pledged to create at least 175 jobs at the former prison site, with salaries starting at $50,000.

A Change in Attitude

A somewhat paradoxical booster of the project is State Sen. Mike Martucci. A Republican who actually voted no on the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), Martucci now he says that he welcomes the cannabis industry as “a productive and positive addition to our area.” Martucci even said he hopes to attract more cannabis enterprises to the Hudson Valley, enthusing that the region’s “fertile soil, educated workforce and close proximity to New York City sets us up to be the Silicon Valley for the cannabis industry.”

After the Drug-War

It remains to be seen whether the Cannabis Economy will save the Hudson Valley region as Martucci hopes. Nonetheless, there is a poetic justice in this transition. One can only wonder what the building’s former inhabitants would have thought had they known that their cells would one day be converted to cannabis grow rooms.