CQC Cannabis Conference Focuses on Social Equity & Tech

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The Cannabis Quality Conference (CQC) held in Parsippany in Morris County this week focused on technology along with Social Equity.

It was a Business 2 Business (B2B) cannabis conference focused on the nature of the industry, versus consumers.

“It’s been really nice seeing the community blossom here,” Aaron Bliss of the Cannabis Industry Journal, which held the cannabis conference.

He noted he was born in Trenton.

NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) Commissioner Maria Del Cid was the keynote speaker on Monday.

“We are determined to get it right the first time,” she said.

Del Cid explained licensing process. She said they want “legacy operators to enter and thrive.”

Del Cid noted the issues with the market, including the limited number of pro-cannabis towns and cannabis real estate only available for an astronomical amount. She admitted process is difficult.

“But we are making progress, and so is the market,” Del Cid added.

“Cannabis consumption is not different than beer or wine,” she declared.

Del Cid pledged to ease barriers to access via the forthcoming Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial assistance program

The legislation allowed cannabis consumption lounges. However, regulation has not been released, she noted.

“We are working on those regulations. Lounges will give people a place for safe consumption,” Del Cid said.

Lounges are on the agenda of the NJCRC’s hybrid in-person meeting next week in Trenton.

Social Equity Implementation Panel 

Next, a Social Equity implementation panel spoke. They focused on minority and/or legacy operators with records securing licenses and opening.

“Colorado legalized with zero eyes toward Social Equity whatsoever,” attorney Rachael Ardanuy of RZA Legal said.

“This is an industry in New Jersey where we have to go backward. It’s starting with large corporate entities that essentially own the market,” she explained. 

Ardanuy noted it is difficult it is to start an industry with massive corporations dominating the market and then open it to small businesses. She explained the lingering stigma and fears derived from cannabis prohibition play into the limited cartel market.

“The rest remains to be seen if we can’t actually open doors,” Ardanuy said. 

She explained the fact that inexperienced felons or minorities with little experience running a highly regulated business need to maintain 51 percent control seems too risky for many investors. 

Erin Gorman Kirk of the Cannabis Government Strategies firm was from Connecticut and described their Social Equity efforts in adult-use cannabis legalization.

“We did try to weave into our legislation some very good Socal Equity measures,” she said.

Kirk criticized Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D).

“Social Equity is not a concept he’s familiar with,” she said.

Kirk said he backed legalization “to make the black market go away. He thinks it’s like the mob and prohibition.”

She noted that Connecticut had a lottery system whereby big companies bought many lottery tickets with a front person. 

“A day after three years .. they lose their equity,” Kirk explained.

Fighting for Inclusion

Managing Partner of 64 Squares Strategy Group Yin Lin noted New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D), who is running to serve a full term, wants 50 percent of licenses to go to Social Equity.

She explained New York wants to be small-business friendly. However, capital can not flow the way it wants. Those with deep pockets only want to invest in vertically-integrated corporations.

“Those willing to bend… made those deals happen,” Lin said.  “Capacity building and capital are essential to these businesses.

Then Jeffrey Garcia of the Latino Cannabis Association explained he led the Latino restaurant association. He noted the problem of Social Equity where the ideal candidate is a double unicorn of a felon and an entrepreneur. 

Garcia lamented that most “have zero history of running a highly regulated cannabis business.”

Also, he explained that many applicants also have significant education and networking gaps.

“Legacy doesn’t always translate,” Garcia said.

Making Progress

He noted Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM) and BIPOC Cann seek to address these issues.

Garcia noted his experience with the NY Latino restaurant association helped. Many of their members are serial entrepreneurs who were eligible to be double unicorns. Unfortunately, many eligible were unaware of the nuances of the rules and did not want to lose their liquor licenses.

Serial entrepreneurs of legal businesses are in a better position to secure licenses, Lin noted. 

“Less than two percent of Venture Capital goes to women entrepreneurs,” she added.

Lin thought there was potential in harnessing ethnic businesspeople to cannabis.

“There’s a lot of grocery store money, restaurant money that wants to play a role,” she said.

The CQC was a niche cannabis conference. It focused on the science and technology sectors of the cannabis industry in New Jersey. Many state experts and professionals from other parts of the cannabis industry attended and spoke. It was intimate.

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