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Hudson County Latino Chamber Cannabis Panel Features NJCRC Vice Chair

The Hudson County Latino Chamber of Commerce (HCLACC) held a conference featuring NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) Vice Chair Sam Delgado on a panel.

The event, which was held in Weehawken, Hudson County, focused on empowering women entrepreneurs, addressing mental health, and exploring opportunities in the cannabis industry.

The statistics of Latino owned businesses nationwide as a percentage overall are generally poor, while they are better in New Jersey overall. Unfortunately, they remain poor in the NJ cannabis industry while the Asian American and African American entrepreneurs have made great progress.

“We are the voice for those who don’t have a microphone,” Hudson County Latino Chamber of Commerce President Heidi Castrillon exclaimed.

The stigma against cannabis remains great in certain circles in the Latino community, she noted.

“I grew up with a lot of taboos. It’s a reality. When it’s a reality, we better get educated. We better advocate for opportunities that we as women can participate in,” Castrillon said about the cannabis industry.

She noted the saying it’s better to be at the table than on the menu.

“You have a voice for those who cannot be here,” Castrillon added.

A chamber of commerce is an interesting organization. Some are very conservative. However, a chamber of commerce can foster small businesses in new industries.

Hudson County Latino Chamber of Commerce Director of Cannabis Business and dispensary entrepreneur Margarita Duran led the panel featuring Delgado, East Orange cannabis board attorney Rosemarie Moyeno Matos, and Valley Bank Cannabis Division Director Caroline Colone.

Delgado noted the seriousness of addressing mental health issues, which was the focus of their other panel.

“We regulate both the adult-use and medical use of cannabis,” he explained.

Delgado has been the NJCRC Vice Chair since it was formed in 2021. He explained he was arrested in New York in the 1970s when the marijuana possession laws in the 1970s were very harsh under the “Rockefeller laws.”

Later in life, Delgado was an entrepreneur and owned Gateway Press and Minute Man Press of Newark. He noted the need to pay expenses before paying oneself as an entrepreneur while living on it.

Cannabis Panel Discussion

Duran noted she is trying to open a dispensary in Newark. She explained she was on painkillers for 20 years due to a car crash, which created stomach problems.

“Cannabis helped me get off painkillers. It led me to explore other options,” Duran explained.

Matos explained she is among the lawyers representing clients in the New Jersey cannabis industry since 2018. East Orange asked her to help write their cannabis law, so she became the board’s attorney afterward.

“Getting into cannabis was not that different in terms of understanding the complexities of compliance,” Matos noted.

She added she will be among the new instructors teaching cannabis entrepreneurs in the New Jersey Business Action Center’s (BAC) upcoming Cannabis Training Academy.

New Jersey Cannabis Industry Discussed

“There definitely was an industry not being served by the financial industry,” Colone noted. “This was history we were making. We were pioneers.”

Unfortunately, because it’s federally illegal, many banks will not touch it. When they do, there is a lot of red tape and fees.

“It’s important to us we stay in compliance,” Colone noted.

Initially, they would only service five cannabis-related accounts. Now, they have more than 800 cannabis accounts four and a half years later.

“It has been very challenging. These are dog years for me. There’s great people in this space. Just starting up a business, it’s a journey,” she said. “Some of our clients have been on a journey for two years now. I’m still not seeing the vision yet. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Duran noted the importance of education on the nuances of cannabis. Ignorance of the details of New Jersey cannabis, unfortunately, is widespread.

(That’s why Heady NJ is a great resource!)

She explained there are many transferable skills between other professions and entering the cannabis industry.

“The first thing that comes to mind is I want to open a dispensary. I want to get into cultivating. I want to get into warehousing or delivery. But there are many skillsets in the industry,” Delgado explained.

He noted the importance of those skilled in horticulture, agriculture, accountants, lab technicians, manufacturing and logistics, delivery, management, and HVAC are very relevant.

“I could go on and on,” Delgado added. “There’s a lot of money to be made in that entire supply chain.”

NJ Cannabis License Process Discussed

Duran asked about licensing and tips for applicants.

“There’s a lot to licensing,” Matos said.

She explained that NJCRC issued conditional licenses are temporary and annual licenses are needed to open.

This is a very technical application. It’s a very regulated industry,” Matos explained. “All of this is expensive.”

“It’s like any business. The key is to understand the nuances,” she added.

“Follow the directions. It’s an open application process,” Delgado said about applying for a license with the NJCRC.

Dealing with Business Issues as a Latino

He noted the NCJRC sends cure letters noting the need for changes before final approval to many New Jersey cannabis license applicants. This is why costly lawyers and professionals can be worth it.

“If you’re looking to apply for a license and don’t have those resources… look at the Business Action Center’s Cannabis Training Academy. It’s just beginning. It’s the very first in the entire United States,” Matos declared. “The program will be up and running very soon.”

“Unfortunately, you guys weren’t up and running two years when I first started,” Duran replied.

“Be prepared as best you can. With cannabis, it’s evolving every day. The journey is long. You need to be patient. Have a business plan. Know your partners and the right partners,” Colone advised.

She noted partner problems can be difficult and encouraged people to network. But it is a growing industry.

Delgado said there are about 106 NJCRC licensed cannabis companies open.

“Visit them, network,” Colone said.

She noted there are great problems securing town approval. In addition, many have to pay a very high amount for rent for around a year before opening.

“I was a failed businessman,” Delgado admitted. “I had customers not paying me.”

He noted the difficulty of collecting payments and bills.

“I lasted 3 years. I sold my business for pennies on the dollar,” Delgado admitted. “Sometimes, the best decisions are the ones you don’t make.”

Hudson County Cannabis Issues

Matos noted that many banks charge exorbitant fees if they do business with them.

Most banks won’t even give you a loan.

“The cannabis premium, it’s very real,” she declared.

Several New Jersey cannabis entrepreneurs have noted the high price that the few businesses and professionals that do want to do business with them charge. They often call it the “Green Tax.”

Delgado noted due to Section 280 E of the IRS Tax Code, licensed plant-touching businesses can’t legally deduct expenses.

“Sometimes that deduction is the difference between making a profit,” he added.

Colone encouraged transparency with bankers.

“Cannabis is not bad. We have the social responsibility to help our community. We’re more than just a business,” Duran said to conclude.

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