They gathered Jan. 25 dressed not in bell-bottom jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts, but in business attire. As they networked together, soft jazz, not psychedelic rock music, played in the background. The venue was not an underground club in Greenwich Village, but the Prudential Hall of Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center. But what they were there to discuss was marijuana — specifically their commercial opportunities if and when recreational “pot” becomes legal in the state. The only “high” under discussion was profit margins.
The 800 or so entrepreneurs, growers, retailers, attorneys, and lobbyists came together at a cocktail party and corporate-sponsored meeting called the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium (cannabis has become the preferred term in the business and medical communities). There they explored the potential enterprises and the possibilities of forming collaborative efforts if, as promised by Gov. Phil Murphy, cannabis is legalized for recreational use.
The use of the drug is already permitted for people in New Jersey with one of 12 medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. As of now, marijuana for both medical and recreational use is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia.
Emboldened by the N.J. governor’s pledge, Alan Barnes of Waldwick, the director of the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo, told NJJN he expected that the purveying of cannabis will become “a $21 billion business across the country in the next 10 years. Locally, growers and sellers will come out of their basements and out of their garages and start operating legally.”
Chairing the symposium was Ellie Siegel, the founder of Longview Strategic, which provides assistance to companies entering the burgeoning businesses of legal cannabis growth, marketing, and sales.
Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, an advocate of legalizing marijuana, told NJJN, “We know that cannabis is not a lethal drug. It hasn’t killed anybody.”
“The interest in this market is overwhelming,” she told the gathering. “It means a big start to the economy in New Jersey, and our goal is to ensure that everyone is prepared and ready for this…. Get ready, because we are going to build an industry together.”
Attendee Ira Brassington of Short Hills, a manufacturer of tea bags, said he believes marijuana sales can become a new part of his existing business. “The legal cannabis market is a very vibrant and dynamic market in New Jersey, and it is here to stay and continue to grow,” he said. “The market is huge, the potential is huge, and the potential for tax revenues is huge. There is no reason the state should not tap into this huge market. It only makes sense.”
Noah Rosen, an Orthodox Jew from New York, said he himself doesn’t smoke marijuana, “but maybe it will become a business for me. If it becomes legal and people would want it, I’d like to open a store in a high-traffic location.”
Asked whether the cannabis business is compatible with Orthodox tenets, Rosen said his belief is that there is a prohibition on doing things “that desecrate ourselves or our religion, but as long as you do things responsibly, there is no real problem with it. Smoking marijuana responsibly is probably like doing any other vice responsibly.”
Another Orthodox Jew at the symposium, Jal Rothschild of Lakewood, said he owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Oregon and is seeking a retail license for selling cannabis in New Jersey. He suggested that using the substance for recreational purposes might be questionable. “A lot of Orthodox Jews won’t smoke pot, but it is OK to sell it,” he told NJJN. “Anything that can bring in revenue is good for New Jersey.”
When Saphira Galoob, the founder of The Liaison Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm working to shape legislation to govern the cannabis industry, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ opposition to legalized cannabis “caused a temporary setback,” the audience booed roundly. But the issue has created popular support across the country and on Capitol Hill, she said, adding, “People are moving to protect cannabis legalization policy.”
Noah Rosen, an Orthodox Jew from New York, said he himself does not smoke marijuana, but if it’s legalized, it may “become a business for me.” Photos by Robert Wiener
Joshua Bauchner, a partner at the N.J. law firm of Ansell Grimm & Aaron, told the audience that “the federal government isn’t that stupid”; when it looks at the “incredible amount of revenues generated by legal sales, it will certainly allow legalized cannabis across the country.
“What the Lord giveth in the form of a beautiful plant, the federal government is not going to taketh away,” said Bauchner.
He said identical bills are now under consideration in the N.J. State Senate and Assembly, “and when Gov. Murphy brings pen to paper, marijuana magically becomes recreationally legal in the state.”
The legislation will create a Department of Marijuana Enforcement, and 90 days after the bill is affirmed, New Jersey will begin granting sales licenses, said Bauchner, “and we are going to be off to the races.”
Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, is a former Republican Assembly member who is hopeful that the bill will pass by June 30. But, he said, legislators “must get comfortable with science and statistics” to counter the “big dollars [that] are going to be opposing this.”
Ellie Siegel, chair of the NJ Cannabis Symposium, said the legalization of marijuana could mean “a big start” to the state’s economy.
Still, he said, “we all feel very confident that we can get this done by June 30.”
He said recent studies have shown a 25 percent decline in opioid use and 15 percent decline in alcohol consumption in places where marijuana is legal. “People make healthier choices when you give them healthier options,” he said.
The key opponent to legalized marijuana is NJ RAMP, whose website declares that “the health, safety, and economic harms of recreational marijuana legalization far outweighs the perceived social benefits.” Attempts to reach the group’s media spokesperson were unsuccessful.