he way Bronx resident Ari Hoffnung sees it, Schenectady County is the perfect place for a medical marijuana operation.
“There’s no way you could do this in New York City,” Hoffnung said, gesturing with his hand toward the cavernous, 120,000-square-foot space his firm, Fiorello Pharmaceuticals, has leased at the Glenville Business and Technology Park.
“If this existed,” Hoffnung quipped, “they’d want to turn it into a 70-story luxury condo building, with all sorts of tax incentives to help get it going.”
In a more serious tone, the 41-year-old said he is impressed with the Capital Region’s mix of academic, medical and business resources to support the medical marijuana industry. Fiorello is committed to investing $10 million in the facility to ready it as a marijuana cultivation.
Fiorello is one of 43 applicants vying for five licenses to operate a medical marijuana operation in the state following the passage last year of a state law that will allow New Yorkers with specified severe illnesses to obtain cannabis.
Hoffnung was formerly managing director at global investment bank Bear Stearns and more recently New York City’s Deputy Comptroller for Budget & Public Affairs.
His interest in the medical marijuana industry was ignited a couple of years ago by events in both his private life and the public sphere. Just as voters passed referendums to make marijuana legal for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington, Hoffnung’s younger brother was diagnosed with late-stage lymphoma.
A resident of Israel, then-34-year-old Daniel Hoffnung had the option of using medical marijuana to reduce symptoms like pain and nausea. He tried conventional medicines first, and opted not to use the alternative drug. But Ari Hoffnung said his brother’s struggle cemented his thinking that marijuana should be available to sick people who could benefit from it.
“These decisions should be between physicians and patients,” he said.
A fifth-generation New Yorker, Hoffnung named his company after former New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia for a couple of reasons. First, the name serves as a reference to the product he will be growing: Fiorello is Italian for “little flower.” Second, La Guardia was against not only the prohibition of alcohol but also marijuana. In the mid-1940s, he commissioned a report intended to dispel myths advanced by cannabis opponents.
Firms that are chosen to run medical marijuana operations must be ready to distribute products by January, under state regulations. An alliance with The Clinic, a 6-year-old firm that operates three marijuana cultivation centers and five retail outlets in Colorado, will allow Fiorello to get up and running in time, Hoffnung said. The Clinic will provide Fiorello with intellectual property and training services.
In addition to its Colorado operations, The Clinic has been granted medical marijuana licenses in Illinois and Nevada. It has gotten operations running from the ground up — including construction of a building — within 200 days, said General Manager Ryan Cook.
If selected this summer to run one of New York’s marijuana operations, Fiorello will immediately send the upstate growers it hires to Denver for training, Hoffnung said.
Technology from The Clinic will track employees’ movements through the facility, as well as maintain precise inventory of plants under cultivation, Cook said.
Fiorello has already recruited professionals who have worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service to provide security for the site. Chief Security Officer Lawrence Stanton held a series of high-level positions at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security between 2003-2011. Director of Security Lenny DePaul is a retired commander of the U.S. Marshals Service who once guarded mobster John Gotti and appeared on A&E’s “Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force.”
Hoffnung said his goal is to create “a culture of zero tolerance for funny business.”
The company estimates it would hire 100 people to build the plant and create 100 permanent positions ranging from janitors to scientists.
The facility in Glenville would be climate controlled, with an ideal temperature in the mid-70s, not unlike the weather Monday, when the Times Union made a visit.
“Today’s a beautiful day for marijuana,” Hoffnung said.