We’re back after break and things couldn’t be more busy.
First of all, big shout out to the Olympics that likes to ban American athletes for cannabis, turn a blind eye to Russian doping infractions and make millions off of the sport while the athletes make very little without sponsorships.
The NCAA just got called on the aspect of how they don’t pay athletes and it’s ahem, high time the same thing happened at the Olympics when it comes to the small amount of money American athletes make and the nonexistent amount of pay for others altogether.
For the last time to the sports world — Just let people smoke the damn plant.
Ok, rant over. Now on to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission meeting this week which had an estimated 70 people pull up. The opinions were plentiful to say the least with common themes being frustration with imperfect legislation, deadlines and labeling.
We’ve got a reporters roundtable to break it all down.
Also, Amanda Hoover pulls up with the latest in the dramatic iAnthus and MPX saga.
Jonathan Salant breaks down the latest in D.C. when it comes to Booker and Schumer’s recent proposal and march toward federal legalization.
We also have two Q&A’s talking about money, the almighty dollar sign that continues to shape the conversation. One on insurance and one on economic justice. One from me and one from Enrique Lavin.
And a reminder, I’ll be moderating a cannabis conference for the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA), featuring many New Jersey power players on Aug. 5. As part of our collaboration, the NJCPA is offering our subscribers the code NJCICAN to participate at the same cost as society members. If you’re interested in attending, go here.
Also, we were able to increase capacity to our July 29 speaker series/networking event. Enrique has more details in the Events section.
Until next week…
— Jelani Gibson
Amanda Hoover, Jelani Gibson, Susan K. Livio
Reporters Roundtable: RFAs, labeling, packaging, transparency
Welcome all, Jelani Gibson, Amanda Hoover and Susan K. Livio held a reporters’ roundtable this week with a focus on the latest marathon Cannabis Regulatory Commission meeting Tuesday night. Packaging and labeling were on the agenda, but there was a drop of news, and attendees had a lot to share.
Amanda wrote a story for NJ.com about the event that summarized well the suggestions speakers made.
Amanda Hoover: We got some news about the 2019 request for applications (RFA). Jeff Brown, executive director of the CRC, said staffers have nearly finished scoring those 150 some applications. They’ll go for an internal review and then receive a public vote. In the past, these have come as agency decisions from the Department of Health. Maybe we’ll see some more transparency with the public vote? The process and scores have been questioned in the past.
Jelani Gibson: Transparency has been a consistent call. Though, when it comes to the RFA there will be winners and losers, especially due to the controversial cap. It will be interesting to see those very same businesses go after adult-use licenses.
Hoover: There was wide agreement on packaging and labeling by those who spoke. Many support the symbol designed by Dr. David Nathan, who founded Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. He’s been trying to get this symbol to be adopted universally, which would put an end to confusion in the industry and lead to standardization among the patchwork of state-by-state regulations. He also suggested using a QR code on labels so consumers can look up more details about the product that do not fit on the label. These would be easier to update than having to print all new labels and things might be changing.
Gibson: What I also found interesting was the point brought up about how a lack of consistent packaging regulations or last-minute changes to those regulations can result in extremely expensive ventures for small businesses. Nina Parks, who’s chair of the oversight committee in San Francisco gave her thoughts on that. It’s pretty interesting to see how other regulators are actually giving their thoughts on the process in New Jersey.
I remember the CRC talking about how they were going to get advice from their peers on what worked and what hasn’t. So it would at least appear that some of the promise on that transparency is taking place out in the open.
Sue Livio: Nina Parks also urged the committee to keep the packaging and labeling simple and affordable, especially for those applying for micro-licenses or are social equity applicants. In California, she said, regulators have changed rules four times, costing tens of thousands of dollars to reprint. It’s caused “extinction events,” which I think she means it’s put people out of business.
Hoover: Tara Sargente (a New Jersey CannaBusiness Association board member and edibles business owner) made a similar point — but she also talked about the need for packaging to still be expressive. Entrepreneurs put a lot of creativity and energy into their products and want them to catch the eye of consumers. If regulations overreach and make everything look the same and bland, I think it could hurt some of these creators.
As for transparency, people will have to see more from the CRC to trust it. A few people asked for clearer communication from the CRC last night. One 2019 RFA applicant even hinted that there could be major legal action if those who have waited for their licenses all this time aren’t given a fair shot at the next round.
Gibson: That’s a fair point. What a fair shot looks like in a market that’s already committed to cultivation caps for the next couple of years though — it seems like a situation that’s bound to be inherently unfair which isn’t necessarily a CRC problem so much as a legislative one. The same goes for the frustration with the deadline and homegrow. A lot of what people may be upset about are things that are rooted in and could be fixed by additional legislation. Whether or not that will happen seems to lack a clear and consistent answer. Regardless, the CRC does have latitude in some of these aspects.
Livio: I was struck by the exasperation and frustration by some of the speakers. Some are tired of waiting for guidance on how to break into the business. One medical marijuana patient explained how inconsistent the supply of medicine is. All themes that have been true for several years now.
Gibson: Growing pains. Literally. It’s important to note though that this is what every market of legalization goes through. New York is talking about two to three years for implementation as are other states. People want the supply legally, but that supply never existed and the supply being set to a certain amount didn’t help matters. The next two years are going to be full of this frustration. How and where that energy is put will make or break some of the changes that need to be made.
Livio: People are coming to the CRC with questions, and under its meeting format, the commissioners do not respond. With the Aug. 21 deadline looming for municipalities to decide whether to permit or block a cannabis business for the foreseeable future, one speaker asked the commission to educate local officials about the law and what kind of business opportunities might be available.
Another speaker, Kevin Sluka, the Somerville Borough administrator, was very candid in saying the governing body is likely to approve an ordinance allowing cannabis businesses in town, but only on the highway at this time. But this position may change, he said, and asked the CRC for help interpreting the legalization law with respect to land use. The CRC politely said it could not help.
Hoover: This has happened so many times, and you can feel the frustration of those asking for guidance. On the topic of Aug. 21, CRC chair Dianna Houenou said for the first time Tuesday night that the rules will not be complete by then — they’re focusing on the high priority regulations for that date. There’s been some doubt that the CRC could get the rules done, especially after the drama around the commission appointees dragged out and cost them a few weeks earlier this spring.
Gibson: The concerns of things being done in a timely manner but also a clear one are running themes here. Once more though, it just doesn’t seem like all of this ineffectiveness can be tackled by the CRC doing things better. I’ve never been a fan of bureaucracy, but there’s something to be said for being a brand new organization working within imperfect constraints. It would make sense for people to see the regulations first, at the same time setting up a market in one year when the average time is two to three years, with supply barriers already built in. It doesn’t look like any of these legislative battles are over by a long shot. The current system will be sustainable for introductory purposes but not for long term purposes.
Livio: Did Houenou say which regulations would get priority and be ready first?
Gibson: Between things that would affect the municipalities and the previous agenda topics we’ve seen covered in the other meeting, those may be the specific regulations they focus on first. Staffing, regulations and licensing were referred to as some of the primary tasks the agency would be occupied with.
Also, I know this is late in the conversation, but what did everyone think about concerns about brands ripping off candy logos in terms of labeling and underage exposure? Mars Wrigley, with an HQ in Newark, filed some lawsuits a while back about the same topic.
Hoover: I thought the stat from poison control about a 600% spike in kids accidentally eating edibles in recent years was surprisingly high. I can see concern about candy and familiar logos is definitely going to come through in the regulations. This was also a talking point during the years-long legalization saga, so it’s not surprising that it’s shaping these conversations.
Gibson: It was also mentioned however, that the issue should be approached with education. We often get scientists who come through asking for more education grounded in risk navigation and some take that as educating about cannabis as an overall threat. I think how the CRC educates beyond regulation is going to be another hot button issue. Overall the issues are going to stay interconnected and as always, we’ll be here to cover it … until next time.
A former female MPX exec. accuses embattled iAnthus of pushing diverse leadership out as it tries to open doors in A.C.
More than two years after MPX NJ got its license to grow, process and dispense cannabis in New Jersey, delays and drama continue to unfold as its dispensary doors remain shut in Atlantic City.
NJ Cannabis Insider obtained correspondence from a former MPX owner and iAnthus employee sent to the state Department of Health and now to the chair of Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Julie Winter alleges iAnthus pushed out MPX’s diverse leadership and also misled state officials about its progress in opening its facilities.
That could explain some of the delays. MPX NJ, which won a coveted vertically integrated license in 2018, was expected to open in early 2020. It planned to cultivate in Pleasantville and boasted a local, women-led team headed by Beth Stavola (Winter and Stavola are sisters).
But the allegations claim it was not on track for that opening.
iAnthus and MPX NJ have several entanglements. Stavola worked as an iAnthus executive but resigned. She remains CEO and majority owner of MPX NJ. The companies have also entered into a master services agreement that would over time move ownership from MPX NJ to iAnthus. According to the correspondence from Winter’s attorney, iAnthus has filed with the state to seize MPX NJ.
The license holder has since claimed iAnthus tried to hijack its operations after investing $10 million. In a lawsuit late last year, MPX NJ accused iAnthus of attempting to negotiate deals with state and local officials and undertake unauthorized construction at the cultivation facility.
In the complaint, Winter detailed the diversity concerns and logistical issues the license holder faced.
“I know that we had every intention of delivering everything we proposed in our application and have been held back and controlled from doing so by iAnthus,” she wrote in a November letter to Jeff Brown, executive director of the CRC and then head of the medical marijuana program under the DOH.
Winter says in her letter she moved from her role at MPX to an iAnthus position in late 2019 after she was pressured to abandon her ownership role. She alleges the same thing happened to another minority member of MPX, Shelby Brown. Diverse leadership earned MPX points in the licensing round, and then iAnthus exploited that by taking control, she argues.
Shelby Brown said he was moved from a national position to a state one and confirmed several issues raised in Winter’s letter to NJ Cannabis Insider. An African-American disabled veteran, Brown previously worked as an investigator for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
“The fact that this company comes and they put white men in place without the level of experience, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I would love to see the true essence of this application to go through: Minority-owned, women-led. It’s very impactful, because those are the people who are going to do for the state and the patients.”
Winter also called plans presented to the DOH “smoke and mirrors,” and accused the company of prioritizing funding for an Arizona dispensary over its obligation to New Jersey patients.
Stavola did not weigh in on the allegations.
“Unfortunately, I am bound to be silent on this subject due to an agreement I had to sign with iAnthus,” she said in an emailed statement.
iAnthus denies Winter’s allegations. Randy Maslow, the president and interim CEO, called them “inaccurate, deliberately false and frankly defamatory” in a statement.
“Patients around the state have already seen far too many roadblocks denying access to this life changing and therapeutic plant,” Maslow said. “It’s a disgrace that this outlandish and financially motivated letter might be just another obstacle to opening the medical cannabis facilities in Atlantic City and throughout the state.”
The complaints don’t seem to be moving the CRC.
In a July 9 letter, commission chair Dianna Houenou said the panel “will not consider matters that fall outside of its jurisdiction” and called the issues “internal disputes between MPX and iAnthus employees and/or officers.”
Toni-Anne Blake, spokeswoman for the CRC, declined to comment for this story. Winter’s attorney, Nancy Smith of Smith Mullin in Montclair, said iAnthus has already filed to have the license transferred, but Blake did not confirm.
There’s hope that bringing light to the underlying issues will halt the transfer.
“We’re just trying to get the agency, the DOH and the CRC, to do what I think it’s job is: Get medical marijuana to patients that need it now,” Smith said in a phone interview. “And get legal marijuana to the people who voted for it overwhelmingly. Do it under the principles that you promised: locally owned, minority-represented businesses.”
— Amanda Hoover | NJ.com
NJ Cannabis Insider Fall Conference — in person: September 15
Good news for subscribers who were on the waitlist for our sold-out July 29 speaker series/networking event, the Asbury Hotel is opening an outdoor meeting space for us to use so we could add another 70 ticket-holders. Capacity is now at 250. (We still have 100-plus on the waitlist.)
Don’t wait to sign up for our fall conference at the brand-new Carteret Performing Arts Center. Early-bird tickets are on sale now. Use code SEPT15NJCI for $20 off the early-bird ticket price ($239) until Aug. 15. Regular price tickets will be $299 for non-members and $249 for members.
The day-long conference is presented by Hance Construction. More details in the coming weeks.
For our July networking event, we’re looking forward to our panel discussion, “Delivery, equity and microlicensing,” featuring:
- Precious Osagie Erese is Chief Operations Officer of CBD delivery company Roll Up Life
- Ellie Siegel, CEO of cannabis consulting firm Longview Strategic
- Bob Anderson, an attorney at the firm Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper
- Sydney Snow, is senior manager of Government and Community Affairs at Eaze Technologies
The event is brought to you by these early-adopters:
- Hance Construction was selected to build one of the first cannabis grow facilities in New Jersey, and has since worked on other medical cannabis projects, offering consulting and site-location services.
- Supreme Security Alarms, New Jersey leaders in the security space, providing custom designed, state-of-art systems to protect your business.
- Harvest 360 is a cannabis consulting company that specializes in application preparation and licensing management, working to reduce barriers of entry for communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.
- Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, with its Cannabis Industry Team provides transactional and litigation counsel to businesses operating in the cannabis industry, helping clients navigate the complex federal, state and local regulation.
- Longview Strategic provides advisory services and industry insights to clients throughout the country’s emerging highly-regulated markets, with a specialization in licensing opportunities and an aim to empower, develop, and position thought leaders to succeed through a professional network of ancillary service providers, and authentic engagement with local communities.
- Shore Grow is an Ocean, N.J.-based company, offering consultation and supplying commercial farmers in New Jersey — whether it be vegetables, hemp or cannabis — who grow organically in soil outdoors or hydroponically indoors.
- HBK is a multidisciplinary financial services firm, offering the collective intelligence of professionals committed to delivering exceptional client service across a wide range of tax, accounting, audit, business advisory, valuation, financial planning, wealth management and support services from offices in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and Florida.
- ELEVEN ELEVEN, a North Jersey consultancy group which has partnered with EWMA (Environmental Waste Management Associates) and IAL (Integrated Analytical Laboratories) to expand its services.
If your company would like to sponsor this or future events, including our Sept. 15 in-person conference, please contact us here.
— Enrique Lavin
LaQuay LaunJuel is the founder and managing partner of Obsidian Elite Investment Association. LaunJuel is focusing on how to make investment more equitable for smaller communities that can locally invest in and share in the profits of cannabis businesses located in their community. In this interview, LaunJuel breaks down his thoughts on the current cannabis licensing process and economic justice. Find him on LinkedIn.
Q: What are your thoughts on cannabis licensing?
A: I don’t think it has to be this competitive process, I think there needs to be criteria and whoever meets the criteria gets a license. I think that there has to be some recognition that you’re taking an industry that’s currently existing and you have to take into account those operators who are in business right now and give them a pathway to be fully initiated business owners on the legal side. There is a natural American propaganda response to that, ‘these are criminals.’ We’ve made them not criminals because they’re just operating a business they’ve been operating in the shadows.
Q: What mentality informs your investment strategy?
A: I’d rather that money go to the households. I’d rather that money go directly to the members of the community. No board, no oversight, none of that. They’re owners. That’s why our approach is the way it is. They already have the capital to be able to invest at a small level and they should be able to reap a significant benefit. The way that you do that is by making sure that you buy into every company that has a license. Every single one of them. Make that a requirement. Every company that’s applying for a license better have some sort of community investment clause, allowing the community to literally buy shares. Revenue share prior to any type of initial type of offering.
Q: Why do you think economic justice is a truer form of social justice?
A: Social justice means we created a 15%, which is not a set-aside, but guidance that we’re going to allow a certain amount of minorities to now have 15% of whatever licenses were out there.
Latinos and African Americans already have 80% (in the legacy market). You already own 80% so now you have to divide that up with the new structure and take the 15%. You have to take that 15$ and divide it up amongst these other groups which are going to relegate the African Americans and the Latino to about 8% after you do that. Then you may have 4% Latino and 4% African American. That’s social justice. Economic justice is ‘how much is our community making off of this right now’. About $3.6 billion? What does that look like in terms of the percentage of ownership of the industry right now if we were to transfer everything over? That’s how much we need to be able to buy into the market.
Q: So we’re talking revenue?
A: Revenue makes a difference as to how your community is able to function because you have capital now as opposed to ‘we have five operators!’ Those five operators, that money doesn’t come back to the community as a whole. That comes back to that operator and whoever that partner is and where do they live?
[Economic justice] is social justice making sure that the revenue part is there. Not just the appearances. It’s the next level of pointing out we have not just owners and operators but making sure that revenue is reaching back into the community.
— Jelani Gibson
Eric Schneider is managing director at AlphaRoot (a subsidiary of Founder Shield), an insurance brokerage and risk-management company servicing the cannabis industry. This conversation was edited for length and clarity. Find him on LinkedIn.
Q: Tell us about AlphaRoot and how it got into the cannabis space.
A: AlphaRoot is a full-service insurance brokerage that focuses specifically in the cannabis, hemp and CBD space. We’re licensed in all 50 states and have partnerships in Canada and other countries to write business globally when needed, but our headquarters are in New York.
We represent the cannabis business in the insurance marketplace to procure their insurance and work with them to ensure there are risk management controls and procedures in place to protect their business.
We’ve been involved in the cannabis space since its infancy with our parent company, Founder Shield, as we focus in emerging markets. We really started to see some traction about four or five years ago in the cannabis space and rebranded the cannabis facing division as AlphaRoot. At AlphaRoot, we work with companies from seed-to-sale, a lot of vertically integrated operators, public operators, as well as ancillary businesses to the space.
Q: In March, our state’s U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez introduced a bill to ensure cannabis businesses have access to affordable insurance coverage. Earlier, he introduced the SAFE banking act, to ensure cannabis businesses get access to banking services. How have you been working with clients without those in place?
A: It’s a challenge. Perfect example is that we have a client in California, and they need to get coverage for licensing and contractual requirements; they’re ready to move forward on the insurance aspect, and they’re having a difficult time setting up banking, and being able to issue a payment for the insurance policy. Widespread access to legal banking is definitely the largest next step.
In most states, what I’ve seen is a bit of a disconnect between state regulations and license requirements, and what’s feasible in the insurance market. For instance, sometimes state regulators will require occurrence-based product liability policies, which is something that’s very simple and accessible in other markets, but in the cannabis space isn’t necessarily a solution. Bridging that gap and educating the regulators has been a goal of ours as the East Coast continues to legalize cannabis, including our home state.
Q: What trends are you seeing the market, specifically moving in a post-COVID world?
A: We’ve seen direct-to-consumer delivery become a huge part of the distribution channel, especially as brick & mortar store fronts (i.e. dispensaries) shut down. On top of that, as more states legalize and those states have large metropolitan areas, like New York City, we believe delivery will be a large part of the New York state cannabis marketplace.
Related to the insurance market, D&O [directors & officers liability] is always a pain point for operators. Early on, we saw a lot of mismanagement of companies and misrepresentations made by C-Suite executives. However, as the industry matures, more institutional capital starts to come into the space and more seasoned C-suite executives start to be inserted into these cannabis companies, which will propel the industries growth. With that, we’re seeing companies be run with the expertise that successful companies in traditional industries are run and we are bullish that D&O pricing will eventually fall as loss history and claims data matures.
Finally, the cannabis market is experiencing a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and we’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the space. Most of the M&A stems from operators chasing profitability and one way to do that is to control the supply chain and decrease margins. But, because being vertically integrated is extremely capital intensive at the onset, this isn’t a solution for all companies in the cannabis industry. We’d like to see decreased consolidation to allow more new social equity applicants succeed in the industry.
In every new state that is coming online, social equity programs have been a point of emphasis. Across all industries we are seeing businesses focus on social consciousness and operating ethically. The cannabis industry as a relatively new market compared to other industries, has an opportunity to set the standard of ethical business practices and practice, “Conscious Cannabis.” Setting aside licenses in new markets for social equity applicants is great, but a more important deliverable is providing them with the tools to operate a business successfully via capital, education and ongoing support. It remains to be seen as to how the implementation of these programs are carried out to provide long lasting success for social equity operators.
— Enrique Lavin
NJ Cannabis Insider file photo
What you need to know about new expungement rules
New Jersey has begun vacating and dismissing marijuana cases, part of the process to implement the new weed decriminalization law.
The change is intended to help people with pending cases or old cannabis charges on their records to get a clean slate. Arrests and fines for possessing up to six ounces of cannabis and selling up to one ounce ended when Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law in February. But there’s also movement to erase old records now that possession is legal.
Here’s what you need to know about the change.
Q: Why do people need expungements?
A: People with criminal records can struggle to get jobs, housing and student loans due to years-old charges. Even after their cases are vacated or dismissed, then can remain on records pending expungements. Expungement is the process that seals a criminal record from public view.
Expungements are historically hard to get in New Jersey. A law signed in 2019 sought to fix that by moving the filing system online, eliminating fees and expanding the number of eligible crimes. This law will eventually establish an automatic system for expunging records.
Q: What marijuana offenses are eligible?
A: The charges made eligible by the new law include selling less than one ounce of marijuana and possession, as well as related crimes like possession of drug paraphernalia, being under the influence, failing to turn over marijuana or being or possessing marijuana while in vehicle.
The order applies not just to old records, but also to pending cases, those awaiting sentencing and those currently serving sentences, either in prison, probation or parole.
Q: How many cases are there?
A: The state estimates some 360,000 cases are eligible. But as many as 1 million may have been arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey since the early 1990s.
The state Judiciary has dealt with 88,000 cases so far, it announced Monday evening.
Q: How does it work?
A: The process is happening automatically in waves, according to the judiciary. After cases are vacated or dismissed, they will be slated for expungement. This is expected to take a few months.
Q: How do I know if my crime has been expunged?
A: The judiciary said it is creating an electronic system that will allow people with records to obtain certificates showing their crimes have been expunged.
— Amanda Hoover | NJ.com
This piece first appeared on NJ.com
The U.S. Capitol Building (Associated Press file photo by Patrick Semansky)
‘The days of federal prohibition are numbered,’ say advocates
When top Senate Democrats unveiled their draft legislation to remove the federal ban on cannabis, they emphasized that it was only a proposal that would be modified before being formally introduced.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who introduced the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the proponents don’t have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill yet.
“It’s a game of numbers right now,” Booker told NJ Cannabis Insider. “We’ve got to get 60 votes to get this done. So No. 1, we don’t have our whole caucus signed onto it and then, No. 2, we have to get 10 Republicans. That’s going to be the challenge.”
Still, just the fact that the Senate majority leader is a supporter of the proposal is a major development in the years-long effort to change federal law. The Senate has never held a vote on a bill to decriminalize marijuana, even after the House acted last year.
“This is monumental,” Schumer said at a Capitol press conference to announce the proposal. “Because at long last, we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed War on Drugs. I will use my clout as majority leader to make this a priority in the Senate.”
Proponents of legalizing cannabis applauded the announcement.
“The days of federal prohibition are numbered,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration.”
A top official at Canopy Growth, an international powerhouse that entered the New Jersey market through the purchase of Acreage Holdings, welcomed the announcement of the discussion draft.
“This critical legislation will set the foundation to establish the U.S. as the world’s largest legal cannabis market,” said David Culver, vice president of global government relations. “The time for full legalization, complete with comprehensive social justice reform, is now.”
— Jonathan Salant | NJ.com
I’m a husband, dad and cannabis professional. Here’s what having a corner-store dispensary in your town might be like
By Dr. Alan Ao, a lifelong New Jersey native and registered pharmacist, is president of a cannabis consulting firm Plants and Prescriptions as well as National Outreach director of MyMedicine LLC. He previously served as vice president and clinical pharmacist at Garden State Dispensary, one of New Jersey’s premier alternative treatment centers. Ao serves as a board member of the International Society of Cannabis Pharmacists. Find him on LinkedIn.
(((Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.)))
Alexa, alarm off!
It’s 8 a.m Saturday and I’m already brushing my teeth since the kids woke me up 30 minutes ago.
While I spend my 3.5 minutes of morning personal time browsing Instagram stories, I see a weekly special pop up for my local cannabis dispensary, Jerseytown Greens. Perfect! I’ll add a stop on today’s errands list before my son’s baseball game and daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting.
At 9:15, I’m on my way to my first stop, Costco, to pick up groceries and a box of that Pinot the wife and I love. Hmm…you know what, the mother-in-law’s coming over tomorrow…let’s make it two boxes.
Next on the list is the independent pharmacy on Main Street, which has been in town for decades. I love going there because they know me by name and always have the best gift ideas for my wife. As I pick up my mother-in-law’s prescription sleep medication, the pharmacist Maria shows me a new line of OTC dietary supplements that boosts energy and metabolism. I’m in! (Even though I know the FDA doesn’t review these products for safety or efficacy.)
My last stop is Jerseytown Greens, conveniently located a few walkable blocks away from Main Street. I’m thrilled they’re not on the outskirts of town, but far away enough from the local Kumon and Jerseytown Ice Cream shop (both which happen to be directly across the street from the town’s liquor store and smoke shop).
As I walk up to the dispensary, I’m warmly greeted by my favorite armed security guard, Darren. He’s a retired police sergeant that served the community for 25-plus years before realizing retirement at 51 wasn’t quite what he expected it to be. We chat briefly about Kevin Durant’s shoe size, and if our Giants will break 500 this season. While entering the dispensary, I’m reminded of a time when the building was a local bank branch before its doors were shuttered a few years back. Ironically, the bank didn’t have any Darren’s on site while it was operational!
Inside the dispensary, I say hello to Tyler, a neighborhood kid from down the street. Tyler finished his bachelor’s degree at a leading state university last year while working full time at the dispensary. He recently got accepted to the University of Maryland’s Masters in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics Program and is excited to begin in the fall. He’s gaining practical working experience while pursuing an advanced degree for the future. Tyler previously worked at an Amazon warehouse, but realized the pay at Jerseytown Greens was comparable in addition to benefits and protections of a unionized work force.
The owner of the dispensary, Alex, comes over to say hello. Our girls are in the same Girl Scout troop. He talks about the newest lab-tested products that are on sale this week.
For my insomnia, he recommends a 2:1 THC:CBD lavender tincture that others have found useful for sleep. I’m in! (Even though I know the FDA classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance with no medical value.)
As a fun gift for the wife, he recommends a beautifully packaged (and child-resistant) dark chocolate bar available to be separated and micro-dosed into small portions. As I get rung up for my tincture bottle and chocolate bar, my mother-in-law pops back into my head.
You know what Tyler…. let’s make it two of each.
As Alex walks me out, he shows me the consumption area that was just completed inside the dispensary.
I was half expecting a bar counter surrounded by stools and lounge chairs, but instead I’m greeted with an open space featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls and an industrial-sized ventilation system. On the inside, an employee is teaching customers how to predict the effects of their cannabis sessions based on sight and smell of their products while simultaneously sampling small portions. I take a quick peek at the calendar of upcoming group activities being offered:
- Mondays: Ganja Yoga
- Tuesdays: Medicated Meditation
- Wednesdays: Joints for Jabs: COVID-19 vaccination clinic
- Thursdays: Cooking with Cannabis
- Fridays: Puff & Paint Night
- First Saturday of the month: Cannabis physician/educator Meet & Greet
Alex speaks excitedly about these services for the community and also extends an offer for our girls to set up a table outside of the dispensary during cookie-selling season. As we say our final goodbyes, he asks me about our town’s baseball team. I let him know the booster club is looking for sponsors and he chuckles.
He says to me, “It might be a little bit longer before the town would be comfortable seeing our name on a giant banner hanging in the outfield, but how about we start with a page in the yearbook?”
I’m home by 11:45 a.m., ready to take on the rest of the day.
And that my friends, is a glimpse of what life might be like with a cannabis dispensary in the neighborhood.
As a professional and former employee of a New Jersey dispensary, I’m compelled to share this mostly fictional depiction into what my private life could look like in a few short years. Municipal leaders, the “canna-curious,” and even groups stuck in the Reefer Madness era of the 1950s need to be given a clear picture of day-to-day life with cannabis in their backyard.
The unknowns of “what will cannabis look like in my community?” can instead be filled with conversations about this burgeoning industry providing over 321,000 jobs across the nation offering advanced career paths in the fields of horticulture, chemistry, medicine, engineering, law, and IT.
The hesitations about the debunked gateway drug theory and negative impact on youth can be confidently greeted by clinical and data-driven studies. The highlight reel can instead shine on social justice programs focused on ensuring black and brown minorities imprisoned for the failed war on drugs will be released, reunited with their families, and reintegrated into society for a brand new opportunity to build generational wealth.
Looking at states like Illinois that established their legalized cannabis market over a year ago, the sky hasn’t fallen. In fact, the sky has a slight hue of green with tax revenues exceeding $205 million in their first year of legal adult-use cannabis sales. The possibilities are just beginning.
I spent almost a decade of my professional career working as a registered pharmacist in the same Main Street pharmacy setting as the depiction above. I recognized that healthcare, service, and customer bonds extend beyond the four walls of the pharmacy and directly into the homes and hearts of the community.
To future cannabis retail operators: I implore you to fully immerse yourselves in humbly serving the communities that welcome you with a letter of support.
To the public: I ask you to simply give us a chance. Give us a fighting chance to develop robust roots within your community. Give us a chance to cultivate meaningful and productive relationships with your towns. Most importantly, give us a chance to celebrate the harvests and fruits of our labor together, as if we were any another small business operator coming to town like a second-generation Main Street pharmacy.
That’s how I imagine things will be. I hope you’ll share this with a friend, a neighbor, or even a local council member. Let’s move on from the stigmatization of what cannabis is perceived to be and create a world of what we want cannabis to become.
(NJ Cannabis Insider file photo)
Free webinar on energy efficiency July 21
When building out a cannabis cultivation facility, energy efficiency should be top of mind, Colleen O’Hara of Signify said at a recent NJ Cannabis Insider event.
Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, points out that by using LED lighting in your facility, you will not only efficiently manage energy costs, you’ll improve crop production through growth-optimized spectrum.
To that end, Signify urges operators in the cannabis space to secure utility rebates available in New Jersey and New York.
Signify is hosting a webinar July 21 noon-1 p.m. to will help you understand the enduring benefits of cultivating cannabis under LEDs, and the very reason why you may want to consider LEDs with urgency: the utility rebates currently being offered.
Learn the process and pitfalls of the rebate application process and why planning and expediency are key. The webinar will be presented by O’Hara of Signify and Adam Lee of Rebate Bus.
Representatives from Franklin Energy, National Grid; and New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program will also join the hour-long webinar.
Register to this free program here.
$20K grants available to 5 N.J. minority-owned cannabis businesses
A leading technology company in the cannabis space is providing $20,000 grants to five minority-run businesses in New Jersey in an effort to boost their chances of winning future licenses to grow and sell cannabis.
Cognitive Harmony Technologies Accelerator has received a $100,000 fund from Pangaea Health and Wellness to be applied for scholarships to put five social equity cannabis license applicants in New Jersey through its accelerator program.
Winners will be selected from a pool of qualified applicants identified by CHT Accelerator partners NJ Cannabis Insider and the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce.
“The N.J. State Veterans Chamber of Commerce is actively seeking veterans to qualify for this amazing scholarship with Harvest 360. To date, the state has not awarded any veterans a cannabis license and we are hoping this changes through this scholarship,” said the chamber’s CEO and founder Jeff Cantor, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
CHT Accelerator, with offices in New Jersey and New York, is a joint venture by a team of cannabis business veterans who are software engineers and Harvest 360 Technologies, a wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Diamond Ventures Inc.
“CHT Accelerator was designed by successful license applicants to level the cannabis business playing field for social equity applicants as they apply for licenses and operate their businesses,” said David Serrano, managing partner for CHT. “This generous donation can help expedite applicants’ acquisition of industry knowledge and improve their chance of entering — and succeeding — in New Jersey’s cannabis industry.”
The CHT Accelerator provides templates, training guides and high intensity coaching sessions developed by cannabis industry professionals to quickly educate social equity cannabis license applicants on the intricacies of the cannabis license application process and business operations.
The goal, Serrano said, is to enable applicants who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs to earn top scores and win New Jersey state cannabis licenses. To apply for the NJ Cannabis Insider-partnered scholarship, go here. Deadline to apply is July 19 by 11:59 p.m.
“It’s part of NJ Cannabis Insider’s mission to elevate minority operators in the cannabis space,” said Enrique Lavin, publisher and editor of NJ.com’s weekly cannabis trade journal and business events group. “We are honored CHT chose our media group to partner for this very important work.”
Beyond the $100,000 no-strings-attached sponsorship, Pangea Health is dedicating 20,000 square feet of space as a cannabis business incubator and education center, said Larry Frascella, COO of Pangaea Health and Wellness. The idea, he said, is to provide free support to social equity businesses, and microbusinesses, as well as low interest loans, a dispensary accelerator program, employment opportunities and more.
“The cannabis license application process can be overwhelming, particularly for applicants that may have more limited resources than their well-established competitors,” said Frascella, a longtime executive for BizLender . “As a New Jersey cannabis license appellant, this donation to CHT Accelerator is follow-through on our supplemental submission commitment to provide free resources to educate minority, women, and disabled veteran cannabis license applicants whose representation in the New Jersey cannabis market is required by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (Act).”
Pangaea Health and Wellness, based in Jersey City, is one of the six applicants disputing the 2018 license application awards. Harvest360 has partnered with NJ Cannabis Insider to offer scholarships to minority applicants for several of its industry events this year, including a networking event in July and a day-long conference in September.
The CHT Accelerator application platform provides up-to-the-minute application templates, guides and coaching tailored to each state’s current regulation. The CHT Accelerator also has developed and beta tested in Illinois a fair and unbiased mechanism to score applications that is customizable to each state’s applications.
Qualified businesses should apply by going to this link. Winners will be announced at the end of the month.
Do you know a town that should be included? Send us a note at email@example.com
Jelani Gibson is the lead reporter for Cannabis Insider. He previously covered gun violence for the Kansas City Star.
Amanda Hoover is a reporter covering the cannabis industry for NJ.com and The Star-Ledger. She previously covered crime and courts across New Jersey.
Susan K. Livio is a Statehouse reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com who covers health, social policy and politics
Jonathan D. Salant is Washington correspondent for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com.
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