Benzinga Cannabis Industry Conference Comes to Jersey

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Benzinga Cannabis Industry Conference comes to Jersey with this picture as part of their logo

The Benzinga cannabis industry conference came to New Brunswick in Central Jersey recently for a day of networking and insightful panels.

It is usually held in Miami, Florida and dominated by large corporate Multi-State Operators (MSOs). Some of their CEOS spoke in Jersey as well. In addition, some local Independents and minorities were featured along with an underground legacy to legal panel.

It was a panel-heavy conference with a lot of business advice. Nonetheless, many hung out and networked in the lobby most of the time.

Like many such gatherings, it represented the commodification or the process by which an industry is being created from a natural flower that has been an illegal plant medicine, which brings people together to be joyful.

The conference was full of people looking for investors.  But federal marijuana prohibition makes that very difficult. So, some look hopefully on news of progress in the form of rescheduling from a Schedule I to a Schedule III narcotic.

But even that could lead to a small number of global MSOs indifferent to social progress dominating the industry, depending on how the laws ultimately shape the marketplace.

Social Justice and Industry

Most cannabis industry conferences feature few discussions of the need for social justice outside mentions of the trials of those who were caught trying to go legit.

However, Benzinga NJ featured Floridian race car driver and former long-term prisoner Randy Lanier tabling with petitions to free those still serving marijuana-related sentences for the non-profit Freedom Grow.

He is trying to open a licensed manufacturer and grower in Eatontown in Monmouth County.

Benzinga Cannabis Industry Conference Panels

Some panels featured advice for entrepreneurs. For example, noted attorney and advocate Scheril Murray Powell told people not to rush to get into a market.

Giovanni Paul of Noire Dispensary also gave some interesting advice.

“Vet your team. Educate yourself.  Enthusiasm blinds you from the actual goals and success you’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Paul noted people think it will be easy to make money in a booming industry without understanding marketing and customer service.

“You really have to run this like it’s a mean business,” he noted.

The Merits of Creating a White Labeling Brand

Upwise Capital CEO Joseph Lustberg said cultivation is an intense science and growing isn’t easy.

“A little bit of mold or bugs and there’s go the crop,” he noted.

Lustberg advocated creating brand loyalty in the underground legacy market and then getting a deal with a grower.

“We see a lot of brands doing that,” he noted.

Lustberg called them “Brand MSOs.”

Some of these companies just put their brand on the product of a licensed large MSO, known as White Labeling. Some companies bring their own flower, seeds, or production formulas to the deal.

But you can’t know which is which until you ask uncomfortable questions.

He was not the only one who said that white labeling was a better route.

New Jersey Cannabis Industry Examined

There was a lot of talk of the New York cannabis industry as well at the conference. Their process has been more tumultuous.

There is widespread agreement that New Jersey has made more consistent progress.

On one panel, Todd Johnson explained he was late due to testifying in the State House in favor of hemp regulation. He is the Executive Director New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, which represents the large MSOs and a few independently owned companies.

“The folks that are going to getting lice seem highly capitalized, not social equity,” Johnson noted. “We need to make it a playing field, which is it not now.”

New York City Cannabis Czar Dasheeda Dawson said New York banned Delta-8 which she criticized.

“It’s all the same plant,” she argued.

Dawson knew the need for more brands and also spoke in favor of white labeling.

Attorney Justin Singer, previously of Queen City Dispensary, noted cannabis price crashing fears are prevalent in the licensed industry.

A lot of industry operators think if there is too much flower grown, the price will drop too much and they won’t make enough. It has happened elsewhere. New Jersey has had the opposite problem for years.

However, Singer pointed out that municipal opposition and delay, along with the difficulty getting real estate, have imposed a de facto cap limiting the number of growers and preventing the price from falling.

Consultant Donny Moskovic noted the expense of warehouses is difficult as well and likely leads to the de facto cap of an unknown number of pro-cannabis towns, allowing a limited but unknown number of licensed companies.

Attorney Jennifer Cabrera moderated a panel on an underground legacy to legal operator pathway. She also noted that white labeling is one way to go versus the difficult and expensive one.

Cabrera said a few large MSOS are partnering with legacy brands to help them get to market.

While a radical would argue they are selling out, a pragmatist would see it as a means toward progress.

“Everyone is in favor of opening up the market to players, but also… this is hard. It’s not an incredibly lucrative industry,” she noted.

Cabrera said the topic of raiding underground legacy operators did not come up on the Jersey focused panel the way it has a pressing issue in New York.

She advised people to “educate yourself. Go to conferences. Figure out what you don’t know.”

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