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Hello, everyone!

We had another great event last night in Jersey City — with a heavy rain of power players making a splash at our first meetup of the year.

Thanks for all of those who came out, including our panelists: Chirali Patel founder of Blaze Responsibly, Darrin Chandler Jr., president of Premium Genetics, and Sarah Trent, an attorney and founder of NJ Cannabis Certified. Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova, our presenting sponsor, also spoke about how his company has helped open nearly 2,000 dispensaries across the country. And, Jersey City Councilman Yousef Saleh stopped by to welcome cannabis insiders to his city, telling the crowd that JC is eager to work with operators in the space.

A special thanks to our supporting sponsors, who gave an elevator pitch at the dais: Scott VanEss of Paychex, Avraham Hirshey of 5S Security and Dan Jensen of Supreme Security.

Other familiar influencers who pulled up, included: Shaya Brodshandel, president of the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association and founder of Harmony, Ed DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, as well as founding president of the NJCBA Scott Rudder; Jessica Gonzalez of Hiller PC and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, Mike McQueeny of Foley Hoag and counsel for the NJCTA; Art Hance of Hance Construction, Nichelle Santos and Jeff Booker of CannaCoverage, Rob Mejia of Stockton University and Our Community Harvest, Gaetano Lardieri of THCBD, Charles Messina and Jennifer Roselle of Genova Burns, Tony Gallo of Sapphire Risk Advisory Group, Colby Piper and Melissa Montemuino of RIPCO Real Estate, Jill Cohen of CannaBoss Lady, Tara “Misu” Sargente of Blazin’ Bakery and NJCBA, Brendon Robinson and Stan Okoro of 420NJEvents, Eric Snyder of Trichome Analytical, Jason Thomas of Precision Quality and Compliance, Diana McElroy of Higher High, Pearl Pollac of BioOx, Harry Carpenter of Citrin Cooperman Company, Stu Zakim of Bridge Strategic Communications, Cecilia Oyediran of Foley Hoag, Rob DiPisa of Cole Schotz, Elizabeth Blaz of Hiller PC, Tracey Kaufman of Cannaspire, Adam Holzberg and Todd Polyniak of SAX LLP, Joseph Hall of Verano, Erica Woods of Dutchie, Gary Krimershmoys of Young America Capital, David Cunic of CannaAdvisors, Todd Sherer of Valley Bank, Jack Palis of Cannabis Risk Management Assn., Alan Trzuskoski of Jersey Girl Greens, Sam Redlich of Sam Redlich Law, Shannon Popov of Leafly, Hugh Giordano and Tom Donoghue of UCFW 360, and so many others.

The event sold out with more than 300 registered guests — nearly 100 on the waitlist, which is a reminder not to wait until it’s too late to buy tickets for our business gatherings. A big thanks to Kristen Ligas and Niyala Shaw for organizing the event. Heather Long awaits your call if you’re interested in sponsoring future events. And, of course, talk to me or Enrique Lavin about speaking opportunities.

For those who couldn’t make it, remember we have an even bigger one planned for March. (Use code NJCISUB for your discount.)

And then there’s news…

Now, onto this week’s edition.

Economics and education are intertwined. One could not exist without the other. And yet, those two things are shaping the frameworks around the debates for the cannabis space’s most critical topics.

We live in a society that still does not understand the basics of cannabis. Those who have studied the plant also speak of only scratching the surface in terms of potential.

That leaves a question.

How can education grow organically alongside the increased economics of legalization and for whose benefit?

This issue features Suzette Parmley going into what education is coming out of the Legislature on youth being educated on cannabis from a perspective of harm.

I look forward to the day when schools can have honest conversations about the benefits, as well.

Sue Livio gives a preview of what next week’s CRC meeting is going to look like and the future ramifications.

Jonathan Salant keeps us updated on the latest with the SAFE Banking saga, with Sen. Cory Booker holding the line on his demands.

For our guest column this week, we have two lobbyists from Princeton Public Affairs Group give an interesting take on what a welcoming cannabis space looks like for all.

Also, make sure to scroll down for details on how to join a conversation John Bailey, founder of the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative, is having later today and tomorrow morning with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Senate President Nick Scutari.

Until next week…

— Jelani Gibson

(NJ Cannabis Insider file photo)

Bill about harm-based cannabis education introduced in Legislature

A new bill introduced in Trenton wants to educate youths about the dangers of using cannabis as part of their school curriculum.

The measure comes on the eve of New Jersey edging – albeit slowly – toward opening a market for recreational adult cannabis use for those 21 and over. Not kids.

Assembly bill A-785 specifies that schools must include “age-appropriate instruction” in substance abuse education for students grades 3rd through 12th.

The bill was introduced on Feb. 11, by a pair of Cape May County Republicans, Assemblymen Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan.

Ironically, it was one year ago – around this very same time last year — that Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed the adult cannabis legalization legislation, known as S-21.

Murphy’s beef: S-21 didn’t have enough safeguards and penalties for minors caught using weed.

The governor argued that the original cannabis and marijuana decriminalization bills didn’t go far enough and wanted to make clear that the state was not legalizing cannabis use for nonadults.

At the 11th hour, Murphy tossed the massive 200-plus page cannabis bill back to lawmakers to fix what he described as a big oversight.

But it was Murphy’s recommendations to impose fines on underage users that sent the Democratic-led Black and Latino legislative minority caucuses into a tizzy.

Many felt fines weren’t the answer and argued publicly that they were actually counter-productive to S-21′s intent since Black and brown communities already mired in poverty would unlikely have the resources to pay those fines, leaving youths at the mercy of the juvenile justice system.

The result was a new bill, S-3454, which clarified certain provisions regarding marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for individuals younger than 21 years old.

The same lawmakers who shot down juvie fines said S-3454 was designed to make the long-delayed recreational cannabis and marijuana decriminalization package more palatable to the governor, as well as to the minority caucuses.

Murphy also signed A-5472 shortly after S-3454 and S-21, that revised certain provisions concerning parental notification of juveniles found to be using or possessing alcohol, marijuana, hashish or cannabis.

But even before these bills reached the finish line, the governor tried to sell S-21 as kid-friendly – that legalizing weed for adults would remove the illicit black market from young children.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” Murphy said in spring 2020 right before the cannabis bill collapsed in the Senate that year. “Our kids are exposed with no regulations. The bad guys run the business and make the money and the social injustices are not cured. That’s the status quo.”

Fast forward a year later, New Jersey is still waiting to open the doors for recreational adult cannabis sales as the Murphy-appointed Cannabis Regulatory Commission continues to review license applications.

The CRC said it needs appropriate municipal approvals on the applications before opening the state to adult cannabis.

Lawmakers Simonsen and McClellan argue kids like to emulate adults, and their brains and bodies are still developing.

“There is a real and understandable concern that young people’s perception of marijuana will be negatively influenced by adults’ acceptance of the drug’s recreational use,” said Simonsen, who is also the athletic director of Lower Cape May Regional High School. “Marijuana edibles and vaping are particularly attractive to teens and adolescents who may be more willing to experiment with a legal drug.”

Regarding municipal approval, McClellan said the majority of towns in his county have opted out of the adult recreational cannabis market and insists kids shouldn’t be given mixed signals.

“Although 70 percent of the towns in our legislative district have passed ordinances to stop the sale of marijuana within their borders, legal adult-use cannabis, whether it’s permitted in your community or not, will still lead to a shift in people’s cultural acceptance of the drug,” added McClellan. “It is vital that our schools include instructions about the risks of marijuana use, just as they do the dangers of alcohol consumption.”

The bill sponsors found support in a new report by Rutgers University that was made public on Monday, Feb. 14.

The extensive study – touted as the first of its kind in New Jersey – broke down who’s using cannabis in the Garden State by age, race and gender one year after cannabis was legalized. The legal market has yet to take a foothold and allow sales.

Among the things it wants to measure: using cannbis and it’s effect on truancy, suicide, graduations, suspensions and matriculation rates among youths.

Charles Menifield, dean of Rutgers University-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration and the study’s principal investigator, said words and ads can have a lasting effect. Menifield speaks from experience.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” said Menifield of teaching kids early on of the dangers of drugs.

A-785 has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee and is awaiting a hearing date.

— Suzette Parmley | NJ.com

Courtesy Photo

CRC to consider alternate methods to flower

Medical marijuana patients have long wished the state would allow alternative treatment centers to produce a wider array of non-smokable cannabis products.

On Thursday, Feb. 24, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission will consider and likely vote on a resolution that would permit the production and sale of THC concentrates such as “shatter,” “budder” and “wax,” CRC spokeswoman Toni-Anne Blake told NJCI.

The products could be “solventless,” she said, which according to potguide.com, relies on a “natural extraction process – using only water, heat, and pressure – leave(ing) the chemical integrity of the plant untouched. This consistently produces a clearer, cleaner product free of any additional chemicals otherwise required to get an oil that will store well and burn comfortably in a common vape cart.”

The commission would need to approve a waiver to allow new product offerings, Blake said.

Other agenda items include:

  • “Consideration of adoption of a universal symbol for cannabis items.” This was the subject of discussion at prior CRC meetings. Princeton Psychiatrist David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation designed a symbol and asked the CRC to consider using it. The symbols promote safety and educate the consumer about the product.
  • Solicitation of public comment on “adult-use consumption areas,” also known as consumption lounges attached to dispensaries.

“What information should the CRC consider when developing its regulations concerning consumption areas?” according to the agenda. “What potential issues related to indoor or outdoor consumption areas should the CRC be aware of, and how can the CRC mitigate or avoid those issues? How can businesses with consumption areas keep patients and customers safe while being a good neighbor to the surrounding community? What unique local or municipal considerations should the CRC keep in mind when developing consumption area rules?”

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

— Susan K. Livio | NJ.com

Courtesy Photo

By Sam Weinstein and Regina Appolon , lobbyists for Princeton Public Affairs Group. You can find Appolon and Weinstein on LinkedIn. You can find the company here.

New Jersey and You: Perfect Together? The catchphrase, which was first coined by Gov. Thomas Kean, Sr., a Republican, in 1980 to attract tourism to the Garden State, could not be truer for the emerging adult-use cannabis marketplace in New Jersey.

The industry, which is expected to play a role in fueling the economy as New Jersey emerges from the pandemic, presents an opportunity for small business entrepreneurs and innovators to help establish a fair, equitable, and sustainable marketplace.

There is no template for building an industry from the ground up and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has. Each state is learning as they go, adopting a set of principles and often borrowing from states that have recently enacted their own programs.

There is tremendous pressure on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to create a workable framework and implement a program that reflects the intent of the authorizing legislation. Currently, the CRC is considering its first applications for the adult-use cultivators, manufacturers, and testing laboratories. In the coming weeks, the Commission will begin the application process for retailers, with additional rules and regulations being finalized in the coming months.

To be sure, the adult-use program has its limitations. For example, there are substantial restraints to accessing capital, which may limit the awardees’ ability to conduct business. Allowing for the use of investment vehicles could help facilitate and foster generational wealth creation, which is especially important for the diverse applicants being evaluated by the CRC.

The goal throughout the legislative debate on legalized cannabis for adult-use was to establish an industry that will provide opportunity for New Jersey-based small businesses with an emphasis on minority business owners. This is the challenge before the CRC.

The legalization of cannabis was framed as a social justice issue. True social-equity in the industry is unachievable without a focus on creating opportunities for those who have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs, and minority-owned, women-owned, and veterans’-owned businesses. So far, in the State’s medical cannabis marketplace, few of the 56 licenses to sell in the State have been issued to Black-owned businesses.

The CRC has set aside a total of at least 15% of licenses for certified minority-owned businesses and 15% to firms owned by women or disabled veterans; however, the majority of the ownership in the 2019 medical program awards were tied to white women, with little racial diversity achieved.

The challenges facing true equity within the industry are real – and New Jersey’s regulators are keen to support home-based businesses over Multi-State Operators (MSOs); however, absent a strong educational program for municipalities and small business entrepreneurs, it may be difficult to reach the goals of the cannabis statute.

The CRC and state are investing heavily in resources and launched social and earned media campaigns to encourage New Jersey’s entrepreneurs to enter the industry, but the question remains if this is enough. Education is needed to combat previous stigmas on cannabis, as the thought of “Reefer Madness” still exists, despite the beneficial and therapeutic qualities of the drug.

Entrepreneurship and a diverse industry are within the grasp of the state, but there is still work to be done. As mentioned, the industry can serve as a much-needed economic engine as the Garden State continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic; yet the State must not favor launching a profitable industry at the expense of those who have suffered most at the hands of the War on Drugs.

New Jersey has long marketed itself as a progressive thought leader in the region and our cannabis regulations have crafted the blueprint to potentially serve as a model for true social-equity and entrepreneurship in the industry.

Now, it is up to the State’s regulators to realize Governor Phil Murphy’s and the Legislatures’ intent of achieving social justice through a stronger and fairer cannabis industry that works for all.

Only then can New Jersey truly realize that: “The Garden State and Cannabis – They’re Perfect for Each Other.”

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

House and Senate negotiators, trying to agree on legislation providing federal assistance to help U.S. manufacturers better compete with China, also need to decide whether to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement, or SAFE Banking Act in the final bill.

The House attached the provision, which would allow banks to expand financial services to legal cannabis businesses, as it did to an earlier measure setting defense policy for the next 12 months.

The Senate rejected the banking language in the defense bill, and it remains to see if the chamber will agree to include SAFE Banking in the final China legislation.

“We’re going to continue to press forward with this,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., chief sponsor of the banking bill.

Perlmutter said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told him she would push for the provision during negotiations.

“She knows I’m committed to putting it on anything I can,” Perlmutter told a group of reporters covering the cannabis industry. “I hope the Senate sees this as inevitable.”

For some cannabis business owners, however, SAFE Banking can’t come too soon.

“It’s creating a big problem for us in the cannabis business,” said Alex Todd, founder of Saucey Farms & Extracts, a California-based cannabis company. “We still can’t deposit the funds into the bank. We’re writing letters, we’re writing e-mails, we’re making phone calls but it hasn’t gotten anywhere.”

Not yet, though. That’s because U.S. Sen. Cory Booker isn’t backing down from his demand that any cannabis legislation include provisions to help those hardest hit by the War on Drugs.

“The Senate stands firm, now that the majority leader is a part of our efforts, we’re not going to pass a naked SAFE Banking bill,” Booker told NJ Cannabis Insider. “As much as I believe in the principles of SAFE Banking, to pass that without restorative justice, to give what the very large moneyed interests around marijuana want, which is SAFE Banking, creates no momentum for restorative justice principles.”

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the negotiators are focused on drafting a bill with provisions that both houses of Congress passed some version of in their separate versions.

“The whole point of the conference process is to work out the differences,” Raimondo said on a conference call with Washington-based reporters from local news outlets. “At this point, the president’s focus, my focus is on the core pieces on the bill getting across the finish line.”

— Jonathan Salant | NJ.com

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver in November. (Photo by Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media)

Lt. Gov. Oliver, Sen. Prez Scutari to speak about Black ownership this weekend

There’s been a lot going on this week and in this past month. Those controversies haven’t escaped our attention. Lack of licenses for Black applicants, statements from high profile insiders and lack of transparency has made for quite the pot.

Our upcoming deep dive will look at it all — in addition to taking a look at how diversity certifications are being used and accused of being potentially misused.

The Black Cannabis Equity Initiative is also having an event this Friday and Saturday with some heavy hitters in attendance including Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver slated to pull up.

The event runs on Feb. 18 from 5:30-8 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 19, 9 a.m. to noon.

Friday, Feb. 18: Join via Zoom here. Meeting ID: 841 0937 4841 Passcode: 313387

Saturday, Feb. 19: Join via Zoom here. Meeting ID: 850 4155 7095 Passcode: 996164

John Bailey, the founder of BCEI and convener, has already made clear he intends to ask some interesting questions so I’ll stay tuned for that and if need be, incorporate that into the upcoming article as well. Whatever happens, understand that coverage is continuous and never a one-off.

Until next time.

—Jelani Gibson

Free seminar on compliance and best practices

Cova, a point of sale platform for cannabis businesses, is having a one-day seminar on March 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Hilton Newark Airport located at the Hilton Newark Airport.

The process of what it takes to open a cannabis dispensary in New Jersey will be covered.

Sessions will cover topics such as startup advice, compliance tips and operational best practices.

Complimentary lunch, coffee, and parking will be provided.

More info can be found here.

One down, more to come!

Our next big conference is on March 16 at the Carteret Performing Arts Center. (Reserve your tickets early here. Use NJCISUB for your discount.)

Confirmed speakers so far include:

  • Tahir Johnson, director of Social Equity and Inclusion at U.S. Cannabis Council
  • Nichelle Santos, founder and CEO of CannaCoverage
  • Tony Gallo, managing partner at Sapphire Risk Advisory Group
  • Ed DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Assn.
  • Art Hance, CEO of Hance Construction
  • Stacey Udell, director of business valuation and forensic accounting at HBK
  • Cecilia Oyediran, attorney at Foley Hoag
  • Stu Zakim, president at Bridge Strategic Communications, which recently won a Clio Award for its work on Happy Munkey’s Original Immersive Van Gogh event last year.

We are looking for proposals for sponsorships and CannaTalks. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Enrique Lavin or Kristen Ligas.

We are looking for proposals for sponsorships and CannaTalks. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Enrique Lavin or Kristen Ligas.

Measures we’re taking to ensure your safety:

Following state and federal guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety, we are requiring attendees to provide proof of vaccination and to wear a mask except while eating or drinking.

Jenali Gibson

Jelani Gibson is the lead reporter for Cannabis Insider. He previously covered gun violence for the Kansas City Star.

“Suzette

Suzette Parmley is the cannabis reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com. She previously worked at the New Jersey Law Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer covering law, business and politics.

Susan Livio

Susan K. Livio is a Statehouse reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com who covers health, social policy and politics

Jonathan Salant

Jonathan D. Salant is Washington correspondent for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com.

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