NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There were lawyers, bankers, CPAs and hopeful future entrepreneurs, all meeting in New Brunswick to discuss the future of one business: the legal sale of marijuana.
The gathering of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association at the Blackthorn restaurant in New Brunswick on Wednesday attracted a diverse crowd, with some dressed in neat blue jeans and others in suits and ties.
Among the approximately 70 people were young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s as well as a few older men with their long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail.
“We’ve got some people who want to be dispensers (of cannabis products). We’ve got some who want to do packaging,” said Felice Twaddle, who serves on the board of directors for the Cannabusiness Association.
Currently there are about 500 members of the association, which serves as a center for information and advocacy for the much anticipated opportunity to legally sell weed products in New Jersey.
Across the state there are six companies dispensing medical marijuana, but that is expected to increase as more people register to receive the drug. Gov. Phil Murphy is pushing to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, in part to generate revenue.
Association President Scott Rudder on Wednesday spoke about proposals in the state legislature to expand medical use and permit adult recreational use, calling the issue complicated.
“It’s a sausage making process,” Rudder said. “We want to make sure we’re growing the industry in right amount for New Jersey."
Brian Staffa, founder of the BSC Group business consulting agency, told that audience Wednesday to be aware of large companies planning to move in and take over much of the industry.
“Big companies are already trying to take over,” Staffa said. He pointed to Acreage Holdings, one of the largest cannabis cultivation and retail companies in the country, which has partnered with Compassionate Care Foundation of Egg Harbor to manage a 100,000 square-foot growing site.
Staffa mentioned other issues, including the huge amount of energy needed to grow marijuana indoors. He said Massachusetts already has regulations because of the drain on electrical grids caused by growing the plants.
Growers and dispensers will also face promotional concerns. Currently it the sale of marijuana is a federal offense, so advertising the products also faces a legal challenge, said Stella Morrison, CEO of Cannacontent, and director of the association’s social media strategies.
Even if the adult recreational use becomes legal, there will be age restriction on who can buy it and concerns about minors being exposed to advertising. “Private companies are very concerned about billboards,” she said.
President Donald Trump last week said he would support congressional action to protect states that legalize marijuana.
Thaedra Frangos, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, is confident the cannabis industry with take off in New Jersey, and she wants to provide the financing.
Frangos, who spent 25 years investigating financial crimes for state and federal agencies, and then spent five years in banking, has formed Garden State Green Bank. She has gathered investors, and expects to make business loans for start-up cannabis companies. Many commercial bank, Frangos said, will shy away from the industry.
She expects the industry to flourish in part because the governor is seeking the tax revenue.