Getting it right – nj.com

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This week’s theme of getting it right is not an easy task.

In a world of globalization and intersection, getting it right has never been harder.

With cannabis, the accompanying harms inflicted upon communities affected by trauma from the War on Drugs has bore witness to the potential for something that has often eluded them.

Economic justice.

The cannabis industry, new in its incarnation, represents the old business adage that it is easier to adapt something new than it is to try to change something old.

The pressures are old, and the industry is new, but one thing remains certain.

The most difficult questions and crossroads have just begun. How the industry decides to navigate the questions of balancing business and equity won’t just set an example for the industry, it can set an economic example for the entire country.

This week, our reporters roundtable takes an aerial view of what that all means.

Amanda Hoover has a story on how equity took center stage at the recent CRC meeting, and is likely to for quite some time.

Sue Livio gives us the latest in business alliances that are being made across the Garden State made to pursue that very goal.

From the halls of D.C., Jonathan Salant explains how lobbying is still taking place where cannabis still isn’t legal on the federal level.

For me, this week, I attended an event on how legacy operators being brought into the cannabis space is a must and I snapped some photos from NYC’s Annual Cannabis Parade where federal, state and even New Jersey advocates attended.

May 20 N.Y. state event

N.Y. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes

We are thrilled to announce New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes will be our keynote speaker on May 20 at NY Cannabis Insider Live presented by Hance Construction.

We also happy to announce Harvest360 is joining us as our social equity partner, sponsoring 50 tickets for equity applicant in the Empire State.

We also have Dasheeda Dawson, cannabis czar for the City of Portland, Oregon, and Ngiste Abebe, president of the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Assn., Allan Gandelman, founder and President of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association, among others.

NJ Cannabis Insider members should use promo code nysub for discounted entry.

And speaking of events, we’re happy to announce Hance Construction is our title sponsor for our June 8-9 conference. Early-bird code: early0608 for $20 off the public price of admission. Ends May 14. Lots of exciting things developing on that front as we’re going to devote talks about building the right space, how towns are preparing for a cannabis economy. If you’re interested in sponsorship or speaking opportunities for either of these events, reach out to Enrique Lavin or Kristen Ligas.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Lastly, we’re looking at the possibility of creating a virtual job fair event to serve the cannabis business community. NJ Advance Media, NJ Cannabis Insider’s parent company, has history in virtual and in-person employee recruitment events. The event would be designed with a goal of helping employers recruit talent for cannabis-related jobs and to help job seekers find employment in the cannabis space.

Our hope is that you will take just a few minutes to provide feedback via this 3-minute, survey.

Until next week…

— Jelani Gibson

Amanda Hoover, Jelani Gibson, Sue Livio

Reporters Roundtable: Dissecting this week’s CRC public forum on social equity

Susan Livio: It’s been a while since Amanda Hoover, Jelani Gibson and I chatted about the rapid changes to the cannabis industry and law that are finally taking place. On Tuesday night, the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission held its third and probably its most productive meeting. The CRC asked the public for ideas on how to make the industry more accessible to people of color and women. More than 50 signed up to speak.

So let’s start off this conversation with how well these virtual meetings are working out — more than 300 people showed up on the Zoom call. And they held it at 6 p.m. Kudos to them.

Hoover: Despite running until nearly 10 p.m., plenty of people stayed on to give their comments. This was clearly a topic people were passionate about and there were some common themes throughout. One of the most suggested policies was to establish a social equity applicant. There are set asides in licenses for minorities, women and disabled veterans, but this would be for people who have been directly harmed by prohibition. Either because they were arrested for marijuana offenses in the past, are directly related to someone who was or live in an impact zone. It’s an idea that was floated during legislative hearings a few times, but never made it into the bill.

Livio: The law leaves everything to the CRC and its Office of Minority, Women and Disabled Veterans to decide. The only thing it has to do is hold seminars and sponsor informational programs.

Gibson: There’s a lot of encouragement for the idea, considering the fact that similar legislative carve-outs were put into New York legislation. Seeing it pass over there has reinvigorated the conversation that it can be possible on this side as well. What has consistently been said about New Jersey and other legalizing states is that they are putting social equity to the front of the legislation as opposed to making a market and then figuring it out.

In many ways, states such as New Jersey and New York will have the added benefit of looking to their peers both nationally and internationally to see what has and has not worked. This is brand-new territory and it’s likely to be a constant topic throughout the incarnation of the industry.

Hoover: It’s striking that even though New Jersey is seen as putting social equity first (these conversations notably delayed the legalization bill in the fall until impact zones and taxation became a big part of the legislation), many do not think enough has been done to ensure this won’t be an industry of multi-state operators and predominantly white men. Many people raised concerns Tuesday night about MSOs pushing out local ownership, and said the CRC is going to have to work to make sure people can access the microlicenses and conditional licenses.

Gibson: These concerns don’t come as a surprise to me, since that is how most of the cannabis industry already looks despite pushes for social equity provisions. Also, given the cultivation caps and the simple fact that access to capital to play the current game can go into the millions, these factors are still seen as barriers to entry. Concerns about whether or not the legacy market will be brought into the legalized market with efforts of good faith as opposed to shutting it down and recreating a new front in the War on Drugs is also a fear that I have heard echoed from numerous advocates and sources of color. Social equity in legislation is new territory, not just for New Jersey, but for the country overall. Given the stakes and the harm the legislation is trying to repair, it’s understandable.

Livio: A campaign strategist for the ACLU, Ami Kachalia, had some really good suggestions about other states and cities New Jersey should examine as it designs its equity programs.

She pointed to Oakland, California, which I believe has the oldest program. It’s good because it offers grants, loans, technical assistance and access to lawyers to answer questions.

(More here in this article from MJBizDaily)

Oakland has issued delivery licenses to 85 social equity applicants. Oakland has also licensed two brick and mortar storefronts to social equity applicants. In LA, 200 social equity applicants are awaiting a decision about whether they can provide. Oakland also has a website that matches equity applicants with general applicants, because these partnerships can be an effective way to expand the number of equity licenses.

But I digress… Ami said we should look to Illinois but it’s too soon to judge any results.

Hoover: Delivery is an interesting one. A woman from a local delivery company that’s currently doing CBD spoke Tuesday night. She would be a minority applicant for a delivery license once those come around, and spoke about the ways it can be a great entry into the industry for people who don’t come with as much capital. But she raised concerns about over regulating delivery, noting insurance is already a high cost. If New Jersey rolls out a lot of rules in this part of the industry, it will be tough for people like her to get involved.

Gibson: Agreed. Delivery has shown potential as an equalizer in other states with the right mixture of support. You also made a good point about insurance. The rates aren’t exactly coming in at the same price range as they would for normal businesses given that cannabis is still federally illegal. Nonetheless, I believe delivery is also interesting due to the amount of innovation that particular industry has shown in both customer education and customer service. Definitely an interesting trend on the horizon.

Livio: One speaker offered a controversial idea — letting only NJ residents and NJ companies qualify for the first round of licenses. I get that it is the same group of multi-state operators who swoop into every state and dominate, but I think this exclusion would cause problems. It would be nice if there was some way New Jerseyans could be assured some of the industry.

Switching topics slightly…how much longer will it take Jeff Brown/CRC/Department of Health to settle on the licensees from the 2019 RFA? He keeps saying it’s coming, but…

Hoover: Brown really teased an update on the decision yesterday and then the update was, we’re working on it still. So we really got no clarity about the timeline at all. For a while it seemed that the hold ups with seating the CRC may be to blame, but they’ve had three meetings now and no word on those licenses.

Livio: He did mention there is another medical dispensary, the Apothecarium in Maplewood. That’s #17?

Hoover: Yes, new this week. We’ve seen the pace of openings pick up. That’s the third new one in just over a month.

Gibson: Medical is still going to continue to be a conversation and business license of importance, especially considering the benefits. It seems to me that until the medical situation is figured out, there really can’t be an accurate estimate of when the rest of the market is going to take off. In many ways, similar to the holding pattern there was before the legislation even passed. I would also imagine that whoever doesn’t get a medical license, would still have some sort of logistical and capital leg up if they put in their application for adult use. If anything, those might be the people that are in position to be the earliest applicants.

Livio: A couple of people at the hearing said there is a need for another bill to address some of the issues around diversity. Is that likely to happen?

Gibson: I think one thing that we’re seeing when it comes to cannabis legislation is that what we’re talking about here is legislation that is not final in its ability to address all issues, but a starting point.

I think another bill is inevitable due to some of the criticisms that have already been raised. As with most new legislation that approaches hot topics, the calculus was made to get it across the finish line. Now that the line has been established, the harder part may be molding additional legislation to make sure that New Jersey lives up to its promise of a social equity driven market and a simultaneously profitable one.

Livio: Thanks for the chat.

NJ Advance Media file photo

Industry power players discuss how to make a new legacy for the legacy market

Multiple regulators, legacy operators, advocates and other power players gathered last week to discuss the importance and framework of making an industry that allowed legacy operators to transition into the legalized industry. The event was run by Dasheeda Dawson, the Cannabis Health Equity Movement (CHEM) chief strategy officer and co-founder of the Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium & Expo (CEASE).

Keynote speakers included New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Shaleen Title, co-founder & vice chair for the Cannabis Regulators of Color. Other power players included Jessica Gonzalez of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Faye Coleman, Founder & CEO of Pure Genesis and Dr. Rachel Knox, CHEM co-founder and president.

Below are some pulled excerpts from the five-hour seminar. Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes

My premise was that we’re not getting ready to open this market up for the state’s purview. We want to open this market up so we can get resources to be able to feed into the lives of the people who suffered from multiple decades of mass incarceration. And it’s not a small price that folks have paid for this. Going to jail, their children not having parents, their parents not having their loved ones, trying to take care of grandchildren, trying to maintain their homes, so life has been tough for this population of the majority Black people and brown people who have been criminalized around this plant, so first and foremost there had to be that equity.

We understand that there will be additional resources and 40% of that will go into the state’s education fund. Importantly with that one is that there is a maintenance of effort, that means we cannot cut what the state is already delivering to education and supplant it with cannabis revenue. We have to maintain what we’re doing in support of education right now and add value from the cannabis revenue. That one is really critical.

How that regulation will look I can’t tell you now because we haven’t even established a board yet but if it’s going to be anything similar to what has happened in previous states that have legalized including Canada it will take 18 months to two years to get that regulation in place and begin the process of letting applications be received, reviewed and accepted. I am totally excited about the whole process. I know that at the end of the day this will create opportunities for people that speak volumes for their future and for their ability to begin creating the kind of access to wealth that can be passed on generationally.

Faye Coleman, founder & CEO of Pure Genesis

Identify what’s missing. Have you surveyed your customers lately and I think we haven’t done enough surveys and I don’t see enough going out. I’m excited to see the polls that are going up today as a part of this event. I think you have to target a different audience segment. Do you really understand who your customer is?

You never know once you look at those different audience segments what will come about from that. Ask your customers how they’re going to use your products. How they’re going to consume that product, when are you going to consume it, the why, the how’s, it’s the marketing 101 segment in terms of how you’re going to utilize those products and find where your company is different.

We can’t talk enough about being a differentiator and in this market it’s critical. You have got to make certain that the educated consumer and the government will come to you in how you are differentiator in a good way. Do you have a quality driven safe product that is within regulations that is unique and fantastic. Those can be some significant boxes to check-off but they’re all required.

Jessica González, Minorities for Medical Marijuana

It’s extremely important to educate yourselves and make sure whether they are the municipal councilman or state legislator or even at the federal level that you have a really good grasp of what you’re asking and the whys.

We understand the history of cannabis, we know what happened back in the 1930s, we know what happened back in the 70s, 80s and 90s, these officials do not know, they either haven’t taken the time to educate themselves, they’ve had no reason to educate themselves before, so it’s important to really make sure that you know that information and then you can then be able to digest it and then distill it in a form that they will understand.

It might be multiple iterations. It’s not a one-time thing. You really have to cultivate that sort of relationship. The way that you do that is by being knowledgeable about what you’re asking for or they’re just going to go over to somebody else, the deeper pockets with more money whose voices are louder and amplified because they have money. So amplify your voice with education and your community.

Shaleen Title, co-founder & vice chair for the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition

Passing the law was a big step forward, we haven’t ended systemic racism, we haven’t changed generational wealth but we’ve made some serious progress and if you look at the trend, the trend is taking power from where it’s most concentrated and moving it. That started with stopping the arrests with law enforcement.

I definitely do not want to be pessimistic or cynical but I do hope you all know going in, that the tendency is for regulators to have inertia and laziness and go the easiest route which is what helps big corporations and the tendency is for big corporations to be able to take advantage of every single loophole and to take advantage of the intense pressure to do things quickly which also benefits them. So you have to be ready to set the agenda yourself and to resist all of those tendencies.

Three things, focusing on regulators, focusing on shared information and focusing on unity.

If you have creativity and great grit and resourcefulness that you picked up from being in the legacy market, absolutely use that because if you stay united in the end, those people who have been handed everything, who have never faced the challenge, they cannot cut it in this environment and you can. You have the benefit of everybody who has been through this before. All the people in Massachusetts, Illinois and California are standing with the new states.

Dr. Rachel Knox, CHEM co-founder and president

This was not a War on Drugs, this is a war people. It was used to systematically and systemically destroy Black, indigenous, LatinX and other marginalized peoples access to well-being and prosperity. The mass incarceration of our bodies has directly and negatively impacted every determinant of health in our communities, but even this truth, this connection, this direct causation is avoided, if not outright ignored by Congress, by our legislators, by our regulators and even our industry operators alike. But this knowing is our legacy too. We must use this knowing to fight for our restitution, reparation and revitalization.

Where the criminalization of cannabis is the currency of our oppression, the commercialization of cannabis can be the currency of our vitality. From the health of our policies to that of our businesses, to the health of our communities, to the health of our mindsets and our bodies, it is this movement that sets out to ensure that cannabis be used in every way to create transformational healing and advancement under our leadership with everyone here today through coalition.

In the true spirit of this plant, cannabis, we are creating entourage benefits for our communities and ourselves. We have to fill up, to pour out here.

We have to be vigilant here and demand not only action but outcomes and ways to measure it, because I don’t know any other way to create safe and sustainable ecosystems for our legacy crossovers into this space and make it work.

That burden, which I really like to call a blessing of responsibility is on us to get this done. Those of us who know, we know. The psychological and physical trauma of criminalization has stunted outright our collective action throughout this country to advocate for a plant that can simultaneously heal our minds and our bodies and our ecologies, ecosystems within which we live.

— Jelani Gibson

NJCBA forms partnerships with multiple orgs to advocate for industry equity

This was a significant week for people of color who want to join New Jersey’s nascent cannabis industry, but find themselves short on financial capital and experience running a business.

On Monday, the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association announced it was forming an alliance with six prominent civil rights and business organizations that will hold networking sessions and provide the Cannabis Regulatory Commission with suggestions on how the industry can be more inclusive.

On Tuesday, the CRC held the first online public hearing to solicit ideas on how to make the newly legalized workforce more welcoming and accessible to minority, women and disabled veteran entrepreneurs.

Although not tied directly to the cannabis industry, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, also announced on Tuesday a formal effort that asks CEOs to sign a pledge to hire and promote minorities into leadership roles, such as membership on corporate boards. The “CEO Pledge” they are creating will ask executives to commit to a set of diversity goals that a workgroup will create and track, according to the joint announcement.

“It is beyond time to increase economic opportunities for Black people and Black businesses,” John A. Harmon, president of the African American chamber. “For those businesses that take the pledge, we are certain that creating these opportunities for a more diverse and inclusive workforce will help to improve each businesses’ bottom line.”

The Census Bureau says 28.5% of all businesses in the nation are owned by Black people. Cannabis company ownership by Black people, according to Marijuana Business Daily, is estimated at about 4%. So the room for improvement is enormous.

As president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association and a Black man, Edmund DeVeaux said he welcomes the efforts of his counterparts from NJBIA and African American Chamber.

“These companies have been here forever. They do not have a track record of representing their customer base,” DeVeaux said.

“When it comes to corporate leadership, it’s been disappointing — from regulated companies to manufacturing companies and financial companies, it’s irrespective of the sector — all have been woeful when it comes to placing women and people of color in leadership,” he said.

As the unofficial “cannabis chamber of commerce,” the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association is determined to shape the makeup of the industry, he said. It has enlisted as its partners the Camden Business Association; the Essex County Latino Chamber of Commerce; the Gloucester County NAACP; the New Jersey State Chapter of the NAACP; Salvation & Social Justice; and the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

“Whether potential license holders or general contractors or subcontractors, the state must ensure that people of color are part of the economic fabric of the cannabis industry that gets woven in the next few months,” DeVeaux said in his announcement. “We have to hold non-minority license holders and contractors accountable for the inclusion of minority stakeholders.”

Nichelle Pace, vice president of the Camden Business Association, said in a statement that her organization aligned itself with the CBA when it was formed. Nearly all — 96% of Camden’s residents are Black or brown, and they deserve a chance to participate, after feeling the weight of the disproportionate enforcement of drug laws, she said.

“It is incumbent of the NJCBA to stay engaged through partnerships and collaboration to ensure that this industry does not get built on the backs of the communities that have lost wealth, life, and liberties for decades,” Pace said.

— Susan K. Livio | NJ.com

The CRC engages with social equity concerns at meeting

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has just over three months to establish its rules and regulations, and it spent hours Tuesday night listening to public comment on one of the most central issues to legalization — social equity.

Dozens of people, from entrepreneurs and activists, to medical experts and union representatives gave lengthy testimonies about their visions for an equitable cannabis industry.

“It is important that we make sure social equity day one is a priority,” said Nadir Pearson, deputy director of NJ NORML. “We know that big corporations will always find a way to enter the market, whenever the opportunity is available.”

Social equity was a sticking point in crafting the legalization law. An initial draft did not send any revenue to communities harmed by marijuana prohibition, and activists testified in droves to change the bill. That led to the addition of the cultivation tax, also known as the Social Equity Excise Fee, and a restructuring of the state sales tax so that 70% will go to newly designated “impact zones.”

But many who spoke Tuesday evening repeated concerns we heard throughout the legislative process: that the law does not go far enough. They called on the CRC to pick up the slack, urging the commissioners to provide education for entrepreneurs, give licenses to people previously arrested for marijuana offenses and to establish funding for local minority owners. Some shared stories of being arrested or having a family member incarcerated for marijuana.

The commission will have a lot of power to shape the industry. The five-member panel will award licenses to grow, process, sell and deliver cannabis to customers, but it will also give recommendations on how the state should allocate tax revenue to programs in cities and towns most hurt by marijuana prohibition.

Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist with the ACLU of New Jersey, suggested the commission establish a social equity applicant license status. That would prioritize people who have lived in cities and towns most hurt by marijuana prohibition, have been arrested themselves for marijuana or are in the immediate family of someone who has been arrested.

She also said the commission should set aside grants for those people as well as minorities.

Precious Osagie-Erese of Roll Up Life Inc., a delivery service, said starting a delivery company can be a good way for minorities to enter the industry and build generational wealth — if the regulations don’t make operating too expensive.

“Delivery has a chance to balance equity,” she said. “Delivery models … often face huge issues being profitable,” particularly when it comes to costly insurance.

One of the commenters at the meeting, Randy Thompson, said large companies should be vetted or mandated to have corporate responsibility initiatives. He also suggested tax revenue be used to fund community grants that fund police accountability programs.

“You began with our bodies, our families being attacked,” he said. “It should end with our bodies, our families, our communities, being protected.”

While the meeting focused on equity, Jeff Brown, executive director of the commission, did tease an update on the 2019 request for applications process. But it was ultimately not much of an update at all, as he gave no timeline for when the CRC will announce the licensees or insight into how far along reviewers are in the process.

That application round involves more than 20 licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana. It was put on hold for more than a year due to a legal challenge, but a court ruled in February the state could resume its review of nearly 150 applications.

“We are working to get these applications scored, processed and awards issued as quick as we can,” he said.

The commission will meet again May 18 at 2 p.m.

— Amanda Hoover | NJ.com

The U.S. Capitol Building (Associated Press file photo by Patrick Semansky)

Lobbying efforts continue as federal legalization eludes industry

A Canadian company, Canopy Growth Corp., was the biggest spender on lobbying during the first three months of 2021, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Canopy spent $160,000 from Jan. 1 to March 31, up from $95,000 during the same period a year earlier. Canopy was the third-biggest spender for all of 2020.

The National Cannabis Roundtable, which counts former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as honorary co-chairs, was second with $141,500. The group spent $160,000 during the first three months of 2020 and was the second biggest lobbying spender last year.

The group that spent the most in 2020, the Cannabis Trade Federation, spent just $10,000 from January to March. And the National Cannabis Industry Association spent $50,000 this year compared with $70,000 a year earlier.

David Culver, vice president of global government relations for Canopy, said the company was responding to the growing number of states, including New Jersey, that have legalized cannabis, as well as efforts on Capitol Hill to end the federal ban on marijuana.

The U.S. Senate, which under Republican control had been a graveyard for cannabis legislation, is now run by Democrats, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said ending the federal cannabis ban and helping the mostly minority communities hardest hit by the war on drugs would be a top priority. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is part of that effort.

“The momentum for comprehensive cannabis reform continues to build at the federal level and in state capitals across the United States,” Culver said. “In the past six months, a significant number of state policy makers have listened to their constituents and embraced the promise of a safe and well-regulated cannabis market—including in New Jersey. We expect the U.S. Congress to press for similar reforms in the months ahead and remain optimistic about the chances of federal descheduling.”

“Canopy Growth recognizes this historic opportunity and as such, has increased lobbying efforts to advance the cannabis agenda amongst key stakeholders.”

Overall, marijuana lobbying groups spent more than $700,000 during the first three months of the year, according to the center.

— Jonathan Salant | NJ.com

The NYC Cannabis Parade, billed as one of the longest running legalization events in the world, took place May 1, 2021. (Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider)

NYC Cannabis Parade continues to advocate for equity and federal legalization

The NYC Cannabis Parade, which had its fair share of New York and New Jersey advocates in attendance, linked up for a parade through downtown NYC to talk about federal legalization, equity in legislation and celebrate the overall accomplishments that advocates have made throughout the space May 1.

Below are some pictures from the event.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

Billed as one of the longest running legalization events in the world, the parade started between W. 31st St. and W. 32nd St. on Broadway. Advocates marched through the city with a rally culminating in Union Square.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

As the march made its way through downtown, curious onlookers took out their phones and some even cheered as participants lit up blunts to celebrate the occasion.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

Long hailed as a staple within the cannabis space as an event for advocacy, the annual parade has transformed throughout the years to not only see major politicians take the stage, but to also call for renewed efforts to look at the plant on a more intersectional basis when it comes to social justice, criminal justice reform, economic justice and healthcare.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

Here, advocates come into the entrance of Union Square before setting up multiple signs in anticipation of the rally. Cannabis power players from both New Jersey and New York came to the event to talk about next steps needed to achieve federal legalization and bring equity to the legalized market. New York is set to be one of the largest and most lucrative cannabis markets on the East Coast with hopes that NYC can become an Amsterdam-like destination for tourists.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spoke at the annual NYC Cannabis Parade about federal legalization.

Schumer touched on the need for equity within the market and New York’s recent legislation legalizing the plant within the state.

“We need social equity in licensing entrepreneurs and we need the expungement of records once for all,” he said.

Schumer went on to tell those in attendance that he would continue to advocate for legalization in D.C.

“I want to tell you we’re working to bring the focus of racial and economic justice you brought to the MRTA to the federal level,” he told the crowd.

Photo by Jelani Gibson | NJ Cannabis Insider

New York State Attorney General Letitia James spoke about the need to keep social justice at the forefront of the conversation around cannabis legalization.

“In many states all across this country recreational use has been legalized and arrests have plummeted by a large percentage and they are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our neighbors and they’re mostly men of color,” she said. “And these young men are punished for this behavior that others seem to turn a blind eye to for people of other races and other socioeconomic statuses and that’s not right.”

Photo by Jelani Gibson |NJ Cannabis Insider

Trenton-based cannabis consultant and longtime advocate Leo Bridgewater spoke the NYC Cannabis Parade and the importance of making consistent improvements to the industry.

“We got it legalized, but now the real work starts, because now there’s this whole new audience of people who don’t know how the culture works,” he said. “They don’t know how we do. They don’t realize that this culture is tribal. It’s filled with chieftains and shamans and warriors and village elders. They don’t know who we are and now we have to let them know.

They also need to know that this tribe is not defined by city lines. This is regional. Our tribe might be small but we are everywhere.”

— Jelani Gibson

NJ Cannabis Inside file photo

Lawmakers propose way for minority-owned businesses to partner with investors

Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Jamel Holley sponsored a bill this week to revise certain restrictions on these businesses. The bill aims to counteract potential barriers to ownership of medical cannabis dispensaries and other types of alternative treatment centers by minority and women entrepreneurs in New Jersey.

Current law prevents any entity from holding more than one permit for a medical cannabis cultivator, manufacturer or dispensary. Under the bill (A-5179), investors who significantly assist someone applying for a medical cannabis dispensary permit would be allowed to hold up to 40% interest in up to seven medical cannabis dispensaries – provided those businesses are minority, woman or disabled veteran-owned.

Business owners would be required to pay back the financial assistance they receive from an investor within a period of time determined by a sliding scale system based on the size of the loan. The measure specifies that ownership would not revert to the investor if the business were to default.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission would also be permitted to review the agreement between the business owner and investor to ensure the terms are commercially reasonable and consistent with fair market value.

Upon the Assembly Health Committee advancing the legislation on Wednesday, Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, Hunterdon, and Holley, D-Union, issued the following joint statement:

“Lack of access to capital is one of the biggest barriers women, minority and disabled veteran entrepreneurs face when trying to become business owners. Lower wages mean these individuals generally have fewer personal savings or opportunities to borrow external funds. In fact, the vast majority of startups backed by investors are overwhelmingly white and male-owned.

“As the medical cannabis industry grows in New Jersey, we need to ensure equal opportunities for involvement in these businesses. By allowing investors to have partial ownership of more than one medical cannabis dispensary, if those businesses are minority or women-owned, we will incentivize them to invest in more diverse ventures.

“Minorities have historically been disproportionately impacted our country’s ‘war on drugs.’ It is only fair they have the opportunity to benefit from this substance’s legitimization as the medical cannabis industry advances.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. (New Jersey Assembly Democrats press page)

NJCBA’s weekly webinar series continues with social equity talk

On May 7, the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association Lunch & Learn series hosts a free webinar, “Social Equity in Cannabis Programs” at noon via Zoom.

NJCBA Vice President Marianne Bays, Ph.D., will moderate the discussion with Josh Bauchner, partner/head of Cannabis Law Practice at Ansell Grimm & Aaron; Zachary Windham, associate of the Cannabis Law Practice at Ansell Grimm & Aaron; and Lisa Reid, managing director of Government Relations at Mercury.

For more information or to register, go here.

Rowan U. presents webinar: ‘The Business of Cannabis: Opportunities for the Garden State’

Rowan University’s Rohrer College of Business is hosting a free webinar May 19 at 5:15 p.m., featuring cannabis industry thought leaders who will share insights on New Jersey’s emerging marketplace, accounting and tax issues, seed-to-sale operations, regulatory compliance realities, and core issues related to advocacy, social equity, and policy reform.

The talk will cover the trends, strategies, and challenges that underscore this dynamic, nascent, and evolving market.

Speakers include: Stacey Udell, director at HBK Valuation Group; Mackie Barch, mid-Atlantic leader of Cannabis Industry Group; and Devra Karlebach, CEO of GTI-New Jersey, among other power players.

For more information or to register, go here.

For this week’s power players we have a New Jersey power player picking up another position that relates to equity, a new lawsuit on the horizon from Mars Wrigley and Curaleaf expansion on the East Coast.

New face at the Marijuana Policy Project

Tahir Johnson, who was recently named the director of equity and inclusion for the U.S. Cannabis Council, picked up a similar position for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“We are thrilled by the vision Tahir has for our work in the DEI space. Tahir’s extensive experience will undoubtedly strengthen our efforts to advance social equity reforms while we continue our mission to end cannabis prohibition,” said Steve Hawkins, MPP’s executive director and interim CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council.

Johnson’s work will include supporting communities of color through the organization which also includes establishing pipelines for HBCUs and cannabis internships.

I’m excited to join the team at MPP to support our movement as the leading organization working to end cannabis prohibition in the United States,” Johnson said. “As we continue to develop social equity best practices, it is my priority to ensure that communities that have been harmed by prohibition also stand to benefit from legalization through economic empowerment and restorative justice.”

Mars Wrigley lawsuit

A new lawsuit is coming out of Newark from Mars Wrigley.

The company which owns multiple confectionary products such as M&M’S, Snickers, Orbit, Extra and Skittles. The lawsuits are taking place in both the United States and Canada against THC-infused products that have used similar packaging and names from the brand to sell products.

“Like other consumer packaged goods brands, Mars Wrigley brands are being used without authorization to create fake THC packaging, which is sold empty and then filled with THC-infused candies to market and sell THC products that look substantially like genuine candies,” The company said in a press release.

Mars Wrigley strongly condemns the use of popular candy brands in the marketing and sale of THC products, which is grossly deceptive and irresponsible. The use of Mars Wrigley’s brands in this manner is unauthorized, inappropriate and must cease, especially to protect children from mistakenly ingesting these unlawful THC products.”

Curaleaf expansion

Curaleaf is expanding its East Coast presence in Maryland, another major medicinal cannabis market.

“We are excited to continue our expansion in the state of Maryland, offering our unparalleled patient care and education, as well as our premium cannabis products,” said Joe Bayern, CEO of Curaleaf. “With the #1 market share in Maryland based on licensed operations, Curaleaf is committed to serving the more than 125,300 certified cannabis patients across the state as we deliver on our mission to improve lives by providing clarity around cannabis and confidence around consumption.”

— Jelani Gibson

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Source: https://www.nj.com/cannabis-insider/2021/05/issue-164-getting-it-right.html

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