By Amanda May Metzger The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.
When the horse barn off Route 9 in Chester was built four decades ago, state-sanctioned medical marijuana would have been a pipe dream.
Its builders couldn't have known that with its cordoned-off equine stalls and secure concrete construction, in 2015 it would make the perfect spot for a crop of mother cannabis plants to ignite a new industry in New York.
The horse barn in a remote area past a driveway flanked by rows of maple trees was built for a practice racetrack project that never materialized. It sat vacant for decades and never housed horses, but now it is the proposed site for Etain's medical marijuana growing operation.
The women-owned family business is one of 43 applicants hoping to win one of five licenses being granted by the state Department of Health for growing medical marijuana.
Amy Peckham, chief executive officer, and her two daughters in their mid-20s -- Hillary Peckham, chief operations officer, and Keeley Peckham, chief horticulture officer -- have assembled a team of national horticulture and medical- and business-minded experts.
Clearly, they're not just blowing smoke. But for some reason, Hillary said, they've had other applicants make disparaging remarks to them. She has been offered a job by competitors and had her credentials scrutinized. Her age, 24, often comes up, but a male applicant the same age never seems to get the same questions, she said.
"We've been asked to prove ourselves more," Hillary said. "The funny part is no one in New York has legal experience doing this. I think we've been pushed more than our male counterparts ... we've brought a great team together."
In addition to raising four children (the sisters have two brothers, including Hillary's twin), Amy sat on the board of Westchester-based Peckham Industries.
A construction materials company, Peckham Industries was founded 91 years ago and has locations all over the Northeast, including Chester. More recently, Amy founded the Peckham Family Foundation with her husband. She has held many corporate roles over the years and has experience as a paralegal.
Etain -- named for a heroine from Irish mythology -- is a venture by the women of the family, entirely separate from the construction materials business.
The experience of Amy's daughters made Etain a good fit. Keeley is certified by New York Botanical Gardens as a horticultural therapist and has formal business training from Tulane University. Hillary studied biology and music at Hamilton College and has a certificate in business from Dartmouth.
They all have an interest in alternative therapies, Hillary said during a recent tour of their proposed headquarters in Chester.
Family members have talked about their first-hand experience with afflictions that would have benefited from medical marijuana. Amy's mother suffered from ALS.
After a failed hip surgery brought on by a sports injury, Hillary lost the use of her leg because of permanent muscle atrophy. She had to relearn how to walk and to do everyday tasks while juggling college courses.
In New York, medical marijuana will not be available at first for chronic pain, but it could have helped her, Hillary said. The entrepreneurs didn't have to raise capital.
"It's all the Peckham family funding this. We all are passionate about this industry, and we wanted to go into it as a family," Hillary said.
The startup costs are staggering. With the expertise needed for the engineering, architectural drawings and so forth, the cost leading up to the application was roughly $750,000, plus the application fee of $10,000 and a registration fee of $200,000.
The Peckhams have assembled a team of horticultural and medical experts who pack a punch, including Jazmin Hupp and Melissa Meyer of Women Grow.
Hupp is the founder of Women Grow, a network for women-owned enterprises in a fast-growing industry as states across the country legalize medical use of the drug. If Etain gets a license, it will have already forged relationships with, for instance, the Bhang Corp., a top medical marijuana product company, that was looking for a women-owned business partner.
"We'll have an exclusive license to have their devices that work well in terms of a metered dose," Hillary said while touring the barn last week.
Boswyck Farms, a hydroponic design and education firm based in Queens, provides training for the New York Botanical Gardens. If Etain is chosen, Boswyck will develop training courses for Etain on growing medical marijuana.
"I was just so impressed with the people they put together. That's what does give me a lot of confidence in their proposal," said Boswyck founder Lee Mandell.
The medical marijuana oil would be available in four ways: pills, tinctures, a breath spray or a vape pen. It will not be available to smoke.
As they hope to be granted a license to make the products for patients, it's an exercise in patience.
The state has indicated it still hopes to reveal the five licensees by the end of July for a January rollout of the medication, which can only be prescribed by doctors who have taken a course.
It's hard to say what demand will be because the number of patients is unknown, but Hillary said the ratio in other nearby states has been 1,000 patients for every million people.
"We don't expect more than 20,000," she said. "We had to be adaptable in our own business plan to make sure we could service and have a viable business, with 500 patients, or carry the program if we needed to. What's nice about the property is there is room to expand. We're starting small to begin with."
If granted a license, Etain will build greenhouses on one end of the barn. The processing, oil extraction and packaging will be done separately.
The Etain operation would employ 25 to 30 people and be one of the largest private employers in Chester. Workers will wear pocketless scrubs in clean room environments to protect the crop from contaminants.
Chester Town Board member Karen DuRose, who is running for town supervisor as Fred Monroe retires, came on the tour with Hillary and said the jobs the operation would provide would benefit Chester.
"It keeps jobs local so these people don't have to travel that far," Hillary said, adding that she receives about a resume a day.
"The revenue we will see is important also to the town. This is a vacant building now. Our tax revenue is going to be a lot nicer," DuRose said.
Written into the bill is a 7 percent excise tax, and 22.5 percent of that goes back to the county where the manufacturing plant is located, Hillary said.
The project has gained widespread support from county officials.
"I think that it really fits into Gov. Cuomo's economic development strategy for the North Country," said Ed Bartholomew, president of the Warren County EDC.