Hello, from New Orleans, everyone!
Currently enjoying some gumbo as I write this at the annual Black CannaConference.
Speaking of lit food, we’re off next week because everybody has to enjoy delicious food during Thanksgiving, right? We’ll be back for Dec. 2.
From conversations with familiar New Jersey faces such as Tahir Johnson, Dasheeda Dawson, Al Harrington (who gave the keynote), Precious Osagie-Erese, Tiyhann Bryant, Faye Coleman among other insiders attending, one thing is apparent.
The plant is playing an intersectional role in communities of color.
In the same way that the War on Drugs affected those communities in interconnected ways, cannabis is being used as a ground zero to potentially heal entire ecosystems of harm.
Medical access, inequality in academia, housing insecurity, drug overdoses, economic justice. It’s all there to explore and how this plant works at all of those intersections will be a pivotal point in how the industry morphs into the mainstream.
Some of those conversations were taking place at our co-hosted Career Fair this week, featuring a keynote conversation I pre-recorded with CRC Vice Chair Sam Delgado. Check out our photo recap inside.
For this issue, Sue Livio has a great article on the League of Municipalities and a rare public appearance from the CRC.
Jonathan Salant talks about companies demanding Biden do something regarding the state of cannabis (as they have yet to do much).
We also pull up with a Q&A from Tetragram founder Otha Smith III, who talks about cannabis data and equity.
Until next time …
— Jelani Gibson
Houenou and Brown answer key questions at League of Municipalities panel
Making a rare pandemic public appearance, Cannabis Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Dianna Houenou and Executive Director Jeff Brown led a discussion at the annual League of Municipalities conference in Atlantic City Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in New Jersey’s future adult-use market.
And, did people have questions. There wasn’t enough time to answer them all.
With the state announcing last week it would begin to accept applications for cultivators, processors and testing labs Dec. 15 on a continuing basis, local officials packed one of the largest conference rooms to find out how much latitude they have to control and shape the nascent industry. (The CRC’s next public meeting is Dec. 7.)
One woman from the Tenafly Chamber of Commerce wanted assurances their downtown could expect upscale boutique-style retail establishments. “We don’t want the skid row pot shop,” she said.
“It’s a very professional business. You can visit our medical dispensaries to see,” Brown said.
Brown, Houenou and Kovach (Photo by Susan K. Livio | For NJ Cannabis Insider)
“We are trying to prevent anyone from getting into industry who will divert cannabis from the legal market to other states, who will serve underage kids and have a history of violence with illegal drug activity,” he said.
League President Janice Kovach, the panel moderator, said the league has arranged municipal officials to go on dispensary tours. She encouraged the speaker to call the league and schedule a visit.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience for a lot of people,” Kovach said. “I understand what you are thinking of but that is absolutely not what you are seeing in those locations.”
Highland Park Councilman Matthew Hale said the borough was preparing an ordinance to allow cannabis businesses, but “prohibitionists” were raising concerns about whether they could require these establishments to be a specific distance from schools.
“Is there a distance requirement?” he asked.
Brown said municipalities can make those decisions themselves.
Bob Ackerman, a member of the South Orange Board of Trustees and chairman of its cannabis task force, said they were “very committed” to promoting social equity applicants, but were “struggling” to develop a plan.
Houenou suggested shaping social equity efforts around “three buckets” — reviewing these applicants first before others, offering financial support for cannabis businesses and providing “general business development support.”
Brown said a town also could borrow the CRC’s model of promoting social equity applicants, which prioritizes applications from minority-owned, woman-owned, or disabled veteran-owned businesses verified by the state and people with past drug convictions. He also suggested researching how many California communities have developed equity programs.
More than one person expressed confusion about what was the municipality’s role in approving applications.
Princeton Councilwoman Eve Niedergang, who chairs the cannabis task force, said if the municipality only wants three businesses in town, should they only say yes to three?
Brown and Houenou stressed the commission would do “the heavy lifting” of vetting applicants, by doing background and financial investigations and examining their business plans. But the rules require most applicants to have a commitment from a municipality that they will allow a cannabis business to open.
“Whatever process you are going to run at the local level, the applicant should come to you before they come to us,” Brown said.
Houenou added: “Leave it to the commission to determine the suitability for running a cannabis operation.”
Niedergang also asked what should Princeton do if not enough applications “meet our criteria for the social equity side, which I think is the most important thing our task force is keen on.” Can they approve just one or two?
“If you have few people who have met the qualifications, then they are the lucky ones. Good for them,” Houenou said. Other more appealing applications may come at a later date, she said.
Houenou raised the topic of how much municipalities charge for application processing — a sore subject raised by some business owners at previous CRC meetings who wonder if they are being gouged.
“Are the fees higher than the CRC? We encourage you to think through how your fees can affect equity,” she said. The commission charges $100 to submit an application, for instance, because “we wanted to make sure it was open and accessible…Use CRC fees as guidance.”
A municipal attorney who didn’t identify himself said the CRC’s fees were “artificially low,” perhaps with the goal of promoting an industry and an activity that a municipality may not necessarily want to support.
Higher fees “would not be unreasonable as long they match a reasonable projection of what the municipality has to actually incur to do the licensing process,” the attorney said.
Brown agreed fees should cover the cost of the service. But he disagreed with the premise that the CRC wants more people to consume marijuana. “We are encouraging opportunities within the industry where it is supported,” he said.
“We want to convert people from the illegal to the legal market,” Brown said. “It’s a win” if the number of people who use cannabis stays the same, he added.
Sean Brown, administrator for Penns Grove in Salem County, said excessive fees can be “a hurdle” to social equity applicants trying to enter the industry who aren’t well-financed.
“I want to remind everybody we got here to correct centuries and centuries of mistakes made in this country and the people who have been hurt by these mistakes,” Sean Brown said.
Municipalities could use templates for applications and letters of support for aspiring cannabis businesses. He also urged the league to schedule more tours of the medical cultivating and dispensary operations.
“This is a lot for elected officials who for the first time are making these decisions and I sense a lot of questions and anxiety,” he said.
— Susan K. Livio | NJ.com
CRC Vice Chair Sam Delgado: 3 key concerns in the space
In this exclusive keynote speech recorded for viewing at our Cannabis Career Fair & Business Expo this week, New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission Vice Chair Sam Delgado, a former entrepreneur and long-time business executive, outlined three key concerns he has for the future of the cannabis space in New Jersey.
First, he said, access to capital remains problematic. “New Jersey has a provision for a fund, where at least 70% of all tax revenues on retail sales of cannabis items shall be appropriated for investments, including grants loans, reimbursements of expenses and other financial assistance in municipalities defined as impact zones.”
Second, Delgado said, the federal government’s prohibition makes it difficult for cannabis business owners to operate, when they’re paying tax rates that are 70% higher than other businesses.
“The most glaring challenge for me is to overcome the IRS Section 280E, which is a federal statute mandated by the IRS opposing ‘illegal’ businesses. In other words, Section 280E forbids businesses from deducting any expenses from the gross income and evolves cannabis.”
Lastly, he asked that municipalities have open and honest dialogue with the CRC, and keep their fees and procedures “within the spirit of our rules and fees to ensure that equity and small businesses participate in New Jersey.”
Watch Delgado’s entire speech, and my questions to him in this video. To view, enter password: career
— Jelani Gibson
Photos by David Hernandez | For NJ Cannabis Insider
Cannabis Career Fair & Business Expo about education and building the future workforce
Our in-person job fair and business mixer at Stockton University, in collaboration with Stockton and New Jersey CannaBusiness Association saw some 350 job seekers and industry power players come together for insightful talks, job interviews and business networking. Our next career fair is scheduled for April 5.
Rob Mejia moderates the panel “Cannabis Operators: From Classroom to Industry”
Stockton adjunct professor and frequent NJ Cannabis Insider contributor Rob Mejia was our emcee yesterday. Due to a family emergency, NFL-stars turned cannabis entrepreneurs Dominique Easley and Jordan Reed couldn’t offer a keynote, as scheduled.
Instead, Mejia started the day by introducing all our terrific sponsors and vendors, many of whom had job openings: The Botanist, HBK CPA, NJ Cannabis Certified, UFCW Local 152, TheraTrue, LexiCann, Green Wave Recruiting, Puffin Store, Earth & Ivy, 420NJEvents, Kaló, Hance Construction, Columbia Care, iAnthus Capital Holdings, Inc. New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA), Herb’s Supply, ATH Cultivation, Lowell Farms, Cannabis Advisory Group (C.A.G.)
Faye Coleman speaking during her CannaTalk: “Infused beverages — A new frontier”
The CannaTalks at this week’s career fair were very super informative and well attended. Pure Genesis founder and CEO Faye Coleman kicked things off, followed by New Jersey CannaBusiness Assn. board member and owner of Blazin’ Bakery Tara Misu Sargente.
Engaging presentation from Precious Osagie-Erese of Roll Up Live, Hugh Giordano of UFCW Local 152 rounded out the talks.
Hugh Giordano of UCFW Local 154 with a captive audience.
The vendor floor buzzed with activity.
Dan Jensen of Supreme Security Systesm
Supreme’s Dan Jensen said: “I’m very hopeful and excited about the prospects I met yesterday.”
The Botanist was among the many cannabis companies with openings.
Todd Johnson of Justice Grown was joined by Pamela Dollak of Thomas Boyd Communications represented the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association.
Brendon Robinson and Stan Okoro collecting names for a raffle.
Brendon Robinson and Stanley Okoro, co-founders of the Minority Cannabis Academy and NJ420Events, held a raffle for premium swag. NJ420Events brought nearly 20 job seekers to the event as part of an exclusive partnership with NJ Cannabis Insider.
Edmund DeVeaux moderated the panel: “The Green Rush: Opportunities for Ancillary Businesses,” with Stacey Udel of UBK, Jeffrey Booker of CannaCoverage and Lou Magazzu of Magazzu Law.
Our co-presenting partners New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, the Garden State’s largest trade group, and Stockton University, which offers an interdisciplinary minor in Cannabis Studies and which recently launched the Cannabis & Hemp Research Initiative, will be looking for sponsorship and speaking proposals for our April career fair. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Enrique Lavin or Kristen Ligas.
— NJ Cannabis Insider staff | Photos by David Hernandez for NJ Cannabis Insider
Otha Smith III
We sat down with Otha Smith III, who runs Tetragram. A data company that catalogues customers’ experience with strains and medical conditions. Here, we talk about how cannabis can be medically ranked, how data can play a role in equity and the scientific contributions more data on cannabis can bring.
Q: So, essentially, you can track down specific performance of a strain from a specific grower?
A: How many men are buying concentrates, how many women are buying edibles, how much is vape selling, how much is concentrate selling. That’s all great data, but the sweet spot for Tetragram is that we understand that when you leave the dispensary with a certain product, how does this product make us feel? That is the most valuable data out of it all.
You’re seeing all these different medical conditions that people are looking to treat with cannabis. It’s astonishing because there are more than 300 different medical conditions that people are looking to treat with cannabis [in the Tetragram app]. You can see the number of sessions associated with that medical condition.
If I click on anxiety for example, out of those 1900 sessions, what was the average THC amount? What’s the average THCA amount and various cannabinoids? What percentage was through inhalation, which percentage orally, I can even see what device they used.
Then I pull in the individual product that people have used, I could break it down to the individual cultivator.
Even in states where they don’t have a program people want to keep track of their products whether they’re buying it from a legacy dealer or not. If Tetragram was out when I was buying weed before all this happened, I would’ve used it just to keep track of which drug dealer had good gas and which one didn’t.
Q: Legacy growers can use this too?
A: Get it tested and then put it up against the top five strains that people are buying in a dispensary. Look at and compare terpene and cannabinoid profiles to see what those variances are.
Q: What’s your most favorite part of this?
A: The community side. We’re learning from each other. Cannabis is probably the most communal plant in the world. It’s the one plant that people love to enjoy with others and love to share their experiences. There are new reviews getting published every hour. It’s great to see people sharing personal experiences with others.
Q: What’s the Importance of the experience being patient centered?
A: We are still at the beginning stages of really understanding the impact of cannabis. A lot of these [medical] organizations are leading the charge, and that’s what’s going to shape the industry. Instead of saying this weed is good, I got really stoned — That’s great but that’s not going to move the industry forward and that’s not going to give the industry the validity it needs so that Congress and everyone else feels comfortable making it federally legal. You really must have concrete information from a clinical perspective.
Q: You’re talking about scientific contributions?
A: That’s one of the reasons we built out a white label of Tetragram exclusively to be used for academia. Universities that want to conduct their own cannabis research, independent researchers and we’re starting to get a lot of interest from MSO’s. Customers are getting smarter. They’re asking more intelligent questions besides how much THC is in a plant. Since they’re cultivating all these products, let’s do some research to see the impact they’ll have on the potential population.
Q: How can microlicenses benefit from this?
A: By cultivating great products, the more they can refine that process, it’s going to help them slide into a full license. Tetragram really is establishing the first ranking system in the industry. People who have microlicenses, if their Bubba Kush is better than 20,000 other people’s Bubba Kush you need to start paying attention to them and give them the support they need so they can bring that product to market in a big way.
Q: How can data bring more equity and what do you want the outcome to be?
A: This can also encourage more minorities to not only look at it from a growing perspective or dispensary, but also look at it from a medical perspective. Maybe this will encourage the new youth that are coming up to get into this from a scientific perspective. The tech side is getting a lot more attention. People of color can get into that cannabis industry and shape the industry through data.
— Jelani Gibson
President Joe Biden speaks before signing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (Susan Walsh | Associated Press)
20 big name cannabis companies ask Biden to pardon Americans hurt by drug war
The chief executives of 20 cannabis companies are asking President Joe Biden to pardon “countless Americans” for nonviolent marijuana offenses such as possession.
The call to action issued by members of the U.S. Cannabis Council came as Congress decides whether to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement, or SAFE, Banking Act, in legislation setting defense policy through Sept. 30. The defense bill was amended on the House floor to include the provision allowing federally chartered banks to provide financial services to legal cannabis businesses.
But some leading advocates of ending the federal ban on cannabis, most notably U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, have opposed marijuana legislation without a social justice aspect to help those communities and individuals hurt by the War on Drugs.
The request to Biden, made in a statement released Thursday, acknowledged the need to address that impact as more and more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. They said the legal cannabis industry now employs 300,000 people and generates $18 billion in revenue annually.
“It is frankly unconscionable that countless Americans are in prison or struggling to overcome criminal records because they bought or sold the product at the very core of our business,” the chief executives wrote.
“Cannabis prohibition has negatively impacted millions of Americans — Black Americans most severely of all. Ending cannabis prohibition and expunging records for nonviolent offenses is vital to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”
The White House had no immediate comment.
During the presidential campaign, Biden, alone among the major Democratic presidential contenders, opposed ending the federal ban on cannabis, but did support decriminalizing marijuana use, expunging previous convictions for using cannabis, allowing medical use and letting states decide whether to legalize the drug for recreational use.
The U.S. Cannabis Council has called on Biden previously to expunge the convictions, which he called for when running for president.
“Cannabis should be a signature issue for a president looking to unite the nation, strengthen the economy and address historic wrongs,” the chief executives said. “As leaders in the cannabis industry, we urgently call on President Biden to meet this historic moment by issuing a blanket pardon for nonviolent cannabis offenses.”
The statement was issued by the chief executives of Akerna, Anacostia Organics, Bridge City Collective, Canopy Growth, Central Coast Agriculture, Columbia Care, Cresco Labs, Cronos Group, Curaleaf, Flower One, Flowhub, Forian, Holistic Industries, Houseplant, NuProject, PAX Labs, PharmaCann, Schwazze, TGIG, and Wana Brands.
— Jonathan Salant | NJ.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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