The Athletes in Cannabis Conference was held Friday and Saturday at the Hilton in Elizabeth and featured lively panels regarding the industry.
“This whole sector is an opportunity for everybody,” said Reggie Grant, formerly of the New York Jets.
“I do not smoke weed but I am a capitalist,” he added. “When you’re an athlete, you’re in constant pain.”
He explained that jugs of drugs, including opioid pain killers and horse tranquilizers, are given out freely in the locker rooms.
“Many guys used that every day. That is how you survived,” Grant said.
“I’ve had close to 15 surgeries,” said former New England Patriots player Dominique Easley. “I was addicted to opioids.”
Grant said the NFL refuses to adopt a pro-medical cannabis policy for players because their core demographic for high-end ticket sales are old people with money who are likely against cannabis legalization.
“They do use CBD in the training rooms,” Easley said.
“They don’t acknowledge it though,” Grant said. “Their commodity is the body of the athletes. They understand their demographics very well.”
Easley explained that after playing, he fell in love with cannabis. While initially from Staten Island, he moved to South Jersey to pursue a cultivation license.
He is among those hoping for a win in the likely upcoming third* round of cultivation and manufacturing adult-use cannabis license awards.
“I’ve submitted my micro cultivation license in Shamong,” Easley said.
He noted his sister has fibromyalgia, and cannabis has helped her cope.
“Marijuana came at a really interesting time for me,” Easley explained.
He noted that after playing in the NFL, he was in such pain constantly it was difficult to play with his young sons outside. However, Easley noticed he was not in pain while walking on a trip to Amsterdam where he consumed a great deal of cannabis.
Grant encouraged people to make partnerships to grow their businesses.
Easley said people who want to enter the industry should familiarize themselves with business basics and learn about the industry by working for a larger company.
“Use the MSOs,” he said.
A man from Ohio in the audience at the cannabis conference noted it was very difficult to secure a license in their medical cannabis market since the most connected got one of the few licenses given out.
“Beware of bad deals,” Easley said.
Legacy to Legal Panel at the Cannabis Conference
Another panel held during the cannabis conference was entitled “Legacy to Legal” with attorney Charles Messina, unlicensed operator Matha Figaro of But A Cake seeking an adult-use manufacturing license in Jersey City, and attorney Adam Dolan.
“Most of the people who probably gravitated towards the industry are from the legacy market that carried this industry on its backs,” Messina said.
“There needs to be an amnesty period,” Messina said regarding legacy operators seeking licenses.
Figaro described herself as a thriving entrepreneur in the legacy market. She wanted Multi-State Operators (MSOs) that are cannabis corporations to educate legacy operators on the industry’s nuances.
“We don’t want white men with a lot of money taking over this industry,” Messina said.
It was noted that those most familiar with cannabis’ nuances are likely from the legacy market. Therefore they are the ones most likely to create unique products. If they sell their companies, it’s unclear if that knowledge will be passed on.
“My father-in-law sold his restaurant to people who couldn’t figure out how to do it,” Messina noted.
He explained they had to keep asking his elderly mother-in-law about her recipes.
Dolan said that laws are needed to help smaller operators “if you want a small to mid-size market.”
However, he is pessimistic that they will survive. Dolan noted the final adult-use cannabis regulations have yet to be released.
Those who secure a Social Equity license or license designed to help a struggling entrepreneur might end up selling their license to an MSO when presented with an opportunity.
“These folks will get paid at least after two years,” Messina said.
“Vultures are trying to come in and try to buy the little piece I’m already fighting to have the 51 percent I need for two years,” Figaro said.
Messina noted the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) should look into Financial Service Agreements (FSAs) to ensure there are no secret owners pulling the strings.
He is not the only one worried about the nature of FSAs.
“That’s going to be a problem you can control,” Messina said. “There’s a lot of folks that can be great partners. There’s also a lot of oily snake salesman in this industry,”
“Trying to find the balance between hoping in the shadows versus being in the light,” Figaro said, is very difficult. “I cannot use the seven years of blood, sweat, and tears I put into my business.”
“It doesn’t make sense to put down that kind of experience,” Messina said.
The cronyism or aggressive advocacy needed to obtain a town resolution was discussed at length. Some lamented those with friends in town government who could charm them behind closed doors and get local approval, unlike neophytes.
“Ultimately, we’re going to a file a lawsuit to get into a town,” Messina said.
“The CRC has unintentionally failed with how much power towns have,” Messina said.
Towns in New Jersey have a lot of power in the first place.