The NJ Cannapreneur Conference was held last week at Farleigh Dickinson University (FDU) and organized by consultant Diana McElroy.
New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) Vice Chair Sam Delgado noted he was a longtime Verizon executive before being appointed.
“I knew absolutely nothing about the cannabis industry,” he admitted.
However, Delgado explained he spent four days in jail as a young man for marijuana possession. Thus he’s the only NJCRC Commissioner who was arrested for weed.
Delgado explained he was caught as a teenager in Orange County, NY, while hitchhiking from the Bronx to work at a summer camp. When the police pulled over the car, they found an ounce of weed. While they were busy, he realized he had another ounce that would have worsened the charges. So he hid it in the cop car.
“How many ounces of dope have been hidden in state police cars?” Delgado wondered.
He said cannabis is a booming industry, with many new jobs being created across the industry. Delgado predicted the cannabis industry would create 22,000 jobs in New Jersey.
“For that to happen, these stores need to actually exist,” he said.
Delgado noted that the NJCRC agenda hasn’t come out for April and people can speculate what they will discuss.
They are most likely to approve some of the Alternative Treatment Centers to sell adult-use cannabis.
Many anticipated them doing so at the last meeting.
Delgado noted the need to integrate the legacy or underground market into the legal market. He said towns that do not allow licensed cannabis companies are supporting the underground market by protecting their market share.
Delgado noted there are many opportunities in the license classes cultivation and manufacturing, transportation, and logistics opportunities. Budtender jobs paying well could also be a good place to begin when entering the cannabis industry. He also noted there are great opportunities for those in law, accounting, construction, security, equipment making, marketing, and especially the financial sector.
“Cannabis requires capital,” Delgado said.
“If you’re going to get into the cannabis business… read the regulations,” he said.
Delgado noted the NJCRC’s worked with the state’s Business Action Center to create a Navigator designed to help launch a cannabis company.
“It’s also good for folks already in the business,” he added.
Heady NJ with NJWeedman and Sativa Cross
As the Editor of Heady NJ and an advocate through the Latino Action Network (LAN), I spoke on a panel with advocate and businessman Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion and Chris Almada of Sativa Cross.
NJWeedman described his experience in the legacy market and voiced his long-held skepticism about New Jersey’s commitment to Social Equity, despite the interim regulations.
“I’m not very confident in the system being set up,” he said.
Despite that, he applied for a dispensary license when the portal opened on March 15th.
“The black market is thriving while the state is coming up with rules and regulations,” he said. “The black market supplies over 90 percent of the weed in New Jersey,” NJWeedman noted.
Almada described his experience as a medical cannabis patient after surviving a car crash. He noted how cannabis has helped despite doctors’ objections and problems with the medical cannabis market.
“We don’t get any part of the plant we actually need as medicine,” he said. Almada noted there is no FECO or RSO oil available. There are also only a few mediocre edibles and vape cartridges.
“I’m sure the black market can take care of it,” Almada added.
As part of Sativa Cross, Almada organized and advocated for the passage of a good cannabis ordinance in Dover, near FDU in Morris County. With fellow advocate Chis Velasquez, he launched a company to secure a license along with a CBD brand.
I described my experience building Heady NJ as an independent media company and advocating for a cannabis market with small businesses and Social Equity at its center. I also explained how Heady NJ covers gray market operators like NJWeedman and those inspired by him, homegrow, and positive local developments like cannabis lounges better than our competitors.
I said New Jersey needs about 200 more dispensaries along with the existing license holders to create a market with vast opportunities for Cannapreneurs.
Expert Advice for Cannapreneurs
McElroy moderated another panel of cannapreneurs with 2019 medical dispensary license winner Sarah Trent, consultant Alixon Collazos, Green Market Report Executive Editor Debra Borchardt, and security expert Tony Gallo.
Gallo, who was raised in Carteret in Middlesex County, explained he was an expert in security systems and initially got a call from a cannabis company requesting help.
“I didn’t know anything about cannabis except what I smoked in the park in Carteret,” Gallo joked.
His background in security came in handy working with dispensaries.
“Same lane with a different product,” McElroy noted.
Trent noted that winning the license has been a learning process.
“We’ll do that when we get the permit,” she recalled saying about many technical things. “It is a big lift for me to organize this information.”
She noted there are 30 pages of NJCRC compliance to complete. They vary from hanging posters in the break room versus policies to ensuring digital patient records are safe.
“I’m surprised about the amount of technology needed in the industry,” McElroy said.
Borchardt described her Green Market Report bought by Crain Communications and how that benefited her when building the company was difficult.
“It’s harder for women to raise money,” she said.
Borchardt noted she had planned to be bought out and picked her niche of the cannabis industry coverage towards that end. With her background in covering Wall Street, it was a natural fit.
Collazos noted the ignorance of many town officials regarding medical cannabis when she first started working on the issue in 2018.
“That takes a lot of patience,” she said. “It’s not a lack of interest. It’s not… the biggest issue in their tent.”
Collazos noted that a lot of lobbying is done when drinking at night at private events.
“How do you compare New Jersey’s market to the others?” McElroy asked Gallo.
He noted that “survival of the fittest” markets have a low barrier to entry, like Colorado, Washington, and especially Oklahoma. Then there are merit-based states like Illinois and Ohio, where applications are scored to win a limited amount of licenses. Gallo called California and New Jersey a “hybrid” whereby local approval is needed at the state level while combining other elements.
“Social equity… minorities… don’t matter. City approval is the only thing that matters,” he said.
While the NJCRC created the conditional license to avoid this, Gallo said it might be inevitable with many towns limiting the number of licensed businesses they will permit.
“Cities take advantage and charge outrageous fees,” he said. “It does become a social equity topic.”
“Sounds like a bribe,” McElroy said. “We call it a fee.”
“The fact that you brought cannabis to FDU spoke volumes,” McElroy said in praise of the Rothman Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at FDU, which she worked with to organize the Cannapreneurs conference. The conference was held on campus, where students came downstairs to change classes amid the conference.