The Real Cannabis Entrepreneur (RCE) NJ cannabis conference held in Newark last week offered businesspeople great insight into the nature of the industry.
Of all the NJ cannabis conferences, it is the one most focused on the nuts and bolts of being an entrepreneur with a start-up and bootstrapping a small business. It is also the most speaker-heavy conference, with only a few exhibitors lining the room of the conference hall.
Business Action Center Legacy to Legal Path Discussed
New Jersey Business Action Center cannabis (BAC) training academy Executive Director Tauhid Chappell spoke about their efforts assisting New Jersey cannabis entrepreneurs. They are building a free online resource of hours of classes for those looking to navigate a complicated process.
“A lot of entrepreneurs in New Jersey who want to build a successful business don’t know where to start. We’ll help you,” he declared.
“I didn’t know about us until I got hired,” Chappell admitted. “It’s been around for 30 years. We’re here to educate people.”
“There are a lot of people who are predatory, who will take your money, who will build you a business plan, won’t care about anything, and you won’t get a license,” he declared. “But at least with us, you know what you’re getting into.”
There will be multiple levels of classes. Classes levels 4 to 10 are only open to Impact Zone applicants, Chappell noted.
Only New Jersey residents 21 and older are eligible for the program.
“We have not forgotten about our legacy operators. (Underground “black market”) Legacy runs this. Legacy will continue to be here,” Chappell explained. “We are creating a legacy to legal curriculum that will help people working in the legacy market understand what they need to do if they want to transition their business. We understand getting into the industry is a lot of work and may not be for everybody.”
He noted they would provide information on the ability to go from legacy to legal.
The program is being released around 4/20 next year.
Many New Jersey Cannabis Leaders Featured
During the Real Cannabis Entrepreneur NJ cannabis conference, many New Jersey leaders in the industry and the legalization movement were honored and featured on stage.
The room was filled with notable industry individuals who have grown with the New Jersey cannabis industry as others have pivoted.
“What a journey this has been for all of us,” former NJ CannaBusiness Association (NJCBA) President Ed Deveaux declared. “We went from referendum to legalization to regulation in a year.”
“We are the tortoise that beat the hare. (New Jersey) We beat New York to an industry. New Jersey has done it, and we have done it right,” he said to applause.
He is opening the NJ adult use cannabis dispensary Simply Pure of Trenton in neighboring Ewing later this year. Wanda James of Colorado founded the brand.
“I was thankful to have the opportunity to come home and win a license last year,” Johnson said. “I’m just really excited.”
He lamented they had construction delays but are back on track.
“We have an opportunity for restorative justice here. There are so many Social Equity business owners,” Johnson declared. “I’m excited about the opportunity to partner with other New Jersey cannabis businesses.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” he added.
Real Cannabis Entrepreneur Conference Master of Ceremonies Gary George noted that the activist group Sativa Cross was tabling and hosting their podcast.
It is generally rare to see political activists at an industry event.
“The most important thing is home grow,” he declared.
Real Cannabis Entrepreneur Spark Tank Pitching
During Spark Tank, investors pitched a panel like the TV show Shark Tank, and prospective entrepreneurs pitched experts in hopes of raising money. Unlike in the show, the judges were not making deals with them.
George explained that those pitching are on the Mainvest crowdfunding platform to raise capital. The project took a while to complete since there were many federal financial security regulations to comply with.
All Star Dispensary Chief Operator Officer Janine Squire explained she had a background in regulatory compliance and real estate.
CEO Everol Prime is planning on opening a dispensary in the Ironbound neighborhood.
He previously lived in Greenwich Village and was arrested more than once for marijuana possession. Prime then moved to Newark. He then began building homes as a developer.
“This is a true legacy to legal here,” Prime said.
“I don’t want it to be a like transaction. I want everyone who comes into the dispensary to feel like family,” Squire said.
They were looking for about $125,000 for their buildout to open and hire employees.
Financial advisor David Cunic praised them for pitching on the stage.
“Do you own the building?” he asked.
“We have a lease,” Squire explained.
The lease is for ten years, she added. Squire said the location will be good for foot traffic.
Prime said he would give 1 percent gross profits to the community.
He added he had previously built and sold a business.
Feldman asked what their Exit Strategy is.
Building a Cannabis Business
Squire said they are a micro license currently. But they want to expand to a standard New Jersey cannabis license. They are also interested in opening up a consumption lounge and a manufacturing arm to be vertically integrated. All-Star Dispensary also wants to be a Multi-State Operator (MSO) cannabis corporation.
They are not the only ones like that.
Cunic noted few people are legitimate serial entrepreneurs.
“Let people know that in the beginning,” he advised.
Red Flags Discussed at NJ Cannabis Conference
“People don’t always do the right thing,” businesswoman and advocate Tara “Misu” Sargente said.
She was critical of Certificates Of Authenticity (COA) issued by testing labs and used by shady manufacturers that are old.
“People are just forging them,” Sargente added.
“Educate yourself. Sometimes the attorneys don’t know what to ask for,” she advised. “Partner with people who have learned the hard way.”
Sargente emphasized protecting equity.
“Don’t offer equity for a white labeling deal,” Tara Misu said. “People are flocking here before our markets crashes.”
She noted there is a sense there will inevitably be a crash. The margins on licensed cannabis companies are not what many want, with the lack of ability to deduct expenses from taxes due to federal prohibition.
“People will come to me and say… that’s a good idea. I’m going to do that,” Sargente said. “Ideas get stolen.”
She is one of the many trying to open a licensed New Jersey cannabis company and is also consulting those trying to get licenses.
Tara Misu explained they’re opening in January. But they still need more investors. The process has been very difficult.
“I was sexually assaulted. I don’t want to talk to investors anymore,” she said.
So Sargente is also trying to Mainvest a crowdfunding platform to get the New Jersey cannabis community to help.
She is no longer interested in securing money from “people who have treated me with disrespect, people who have been predators, people who have thought they know better than me who have made me insulting offers, who have offered predatory lending?”
UFCW Labor Union Leader Honored
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 360 union labor leader Hugh Giordano was honored for his work at the NJ cannabis conference organizing and empowering licensed New Jersey cannabis operations workers, including budtenders.
(Full disclosure Heady NJ has a deal with the UFCW Local 360 to host our upcoming South Jersey Legal to Legal Forum on October 28th from 1-5 PM!)
Giordano has been consistently on the front lines of New Jersey cannabis legalization, going to local meetings to advocate for unionized dispensaries before a range of audiences from largely hostile to very welcoming.
He explained that in the Jake Honig Act of 2019 and the 2020 referendum implementation legislation, the Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement and Marijuana Modernization Act (CREAMMA), the UFCW fought to make Labor Peace Agreements (LPAs) mandatory so that companies could not legally block New Jersey cannabis workers from joining unions.
“Cookies would be nothing about the workers in their facility,” Giordano declared.
He praised knowledgeable budtenders.
“Cookies was made by working-class people,” Giordano argued.
“The union is not against ownership. We’re against bad people,” he explained.
Giordano said paying good wages and giving back to the community makes one good.
“It’s all politics. It’s all who you know,” he said regarding cannabis.