The Cannademix cannabis conference was held at Hudson County Community College in Journal Square in Jersey City featuring local leaders.
A panel was moderated by NJ Advance Cannabis Insider reporter Jelani Gibson featured Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, Jersey City Cannabis Control Board (CCB) Chair Brittany Bunney, and East Orange CCB attorney and Medusa dispensary lounge attorney Rosemarie Moyeno Matos.
“I’m very pro-cannabis,” Saleh said to applause. “Jersey City and Hudson County have been adversely impacted by the war on cannabis. So, I thought it right to expand the opportunity as much as possible.”
“We want to have a maximum of six,” he said about dispensaries on Central Avenue in his neighborhood, the Heights in the north of the city.
Saleh said there is a maximum of six dispensaries are going to be allowed in Greenville.
“We are cannabis inclusive here in Jersey City,” Bunney said. “We will be doing a quarterly report that will be the state of the cannabis market in Jersey City. The mayor has said we’re going to allow as many applicants as the market will allow.”
She noted they want the companies to succeed and ensure they do indeed give back to the community.
Bunney explained the process necessary with the Planning Board and the CCB and the need to receive a resolution from the Jersey City Council, which has not endorsed any cannabis companies yet.
“New is always scary for everyone. New is especially scary for everyone not in cannabis,” she said.
“My board is really concerned about community impact. Part of being a good neighbor is working with your neighbors… educating them about cannabis,” Bunney said.
“Have mercy because we are learning with you, and we are doing our best. Every meeting we’re learning more. We’re certainly learning as we go,” Bunney said.
“We need to have a concerted effort in terms of getting legacy market and people that have a legacy business and get legitimized. I think it should be done through intermediaries,” Saleh said. “If the market becomes too inundated with MSOs, it’s really going to dash the hope of the people applying for equity licenses.”
“The law was made for certain individuals that had their opportunities dashed and hope taken away. I know people in the Muslim community and they couldn’t get a job for a very long time. There’s a stigma,” he added.
“There is a high hurdle for them to get up there. This not a small undertaking,” Saleh said.
Matos explained the licensing process and the need to find a friendly pro-cannabis town. She noted that 60 percent of New Jersey towns are not in favor of a cannabis company in their town.
“It’s not just about making sure you fit in the zoning but making sure your business model works in that community,” Matos said.
She noted how hard it is to find a good property.
“Some of the prices my clients have been quoted for square footage is crazy,” Matos said.
She noted the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) regulations lower the barrier to entry and incentivize certain applications. In addition, they sought to prevent predatory agreements, she noted for Management Service Agreement and Financial Services Agreement. The State has limited the number of licensed businesses a company can invest in and limited its influence in the company.
“They go and try to maneuver from behind the scenes,” Matos said of many cannabis corporations.
Matos noted that Multi-State Operators (MSOs) are getting creative in manipulating applicants incentivized in the NJCRC adult-use license process.
“It’s a mess, and it’s extremely hard to monitor,” she said.
Saleh noted the geographic restrictions are burdensome for companies trying to open in the Heights, and they might rezone Summit Avenue to allow for more places allowing cannabis companies.
“I think we need time. I know everyone is clamoring to get through the door and get approved. We need time and patience,” Saleh said.
He noted a great deal of legalization opposition remains.
Saleh said he was a security guard at Rutgers and the problems he faced stemmed from alcohol abuse.
“Everyone who smoked cannabis was the chilliest person on the plant,” he said.
“We need to bring this into the light,” Saleh said.
“We need time. We need education. We need mercy,” Bunney said. “We have one opportunity to do this well and be an example.”
“Alcohol has been a part of our lives so long legally people don’t think of it anymore,” she noted. Bunney said the need to end the cultural stigma is the biggest issue.
“We’re still a long way to dispensary opening in Jersey City,” she said.
They smoke in front of your door right now,” Matos said to common complaints. “The children are already buying pot in the street. This is one of the most secure facilities you’ll ever see.”
Bunney noted in California and Oregon, while legalization was initially very controversial, it has become more acceptable over time.
She noted Jersey City is the most diverse city in the United States.
A speaker at the conference noted the fees to apply are prohibitively expensive, and MSOs are partnering with minorities and women to get ahead of the game.
Saleh said he was sympathetic and encouraged her to speak before the City Council.
Saleh said he wanted at least half of the licenses to go to independent operators versus MSOs.
Cannademix Cannabis Conference
The Cannademix conference heavily featured minority entrepreneurs and professionals as well as those from the legacy or underground market. Out-of-state cannabis experts were also featured on the variety of panels featured.
“This is creating hope, President Ed DeVeaux said about the launching of the new industry.
DeVeaux explained many are seeking to enter the industry in a career transition. He noted the need for a diverse and inclusionary industry as reflected in the NJCBA’s members.
“They’re learning their jobs so be patient,” NJ CannaBusiness (NJCBA) DeVeaux said of the NJCRC.
“Get an attorney as you develop what it is you want from that relationship,” DeVeaux said about making deals. “If you hear something that makes you uncomfortable walk away.