A chicken in every pot? Prepping for NJ’s would-be marijuana industry
KENILWORTH – Meme Binko is thinking about selling the auto body repair shop in Irvington for 35 years, though the Mountainside resident isn’t looking to leave New Jersey.
Instead, she’s contemplating whether to open a new shop she could operate with her husband and son – one that sells cannabis products, presuming New Jersey next year legalizes use of marijuana by adults for recreational purposes.
That’s what drew Binko, and hundreds of other people, to a business networking event last week in the clubhouse of the Galloping Hall Golf Course.
“I’m looking to get some knowledge and maybe look into possibly investing in the next stage of my future in the cannabis industry,” Binko said.
Some at the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association event pitched the idea as a new incarnation of the dot-com boom, saying New Jersey could be the nation’s second-biggest marijuana market, in part because of its proximity to New York and Philadelphia.
Attendance was nearly six times larger than at a previous CannaBusiness Association event, in part because it partnered with Athletes for CARE, which promotes use of marijuana as an alternative to opioids for treating pain. Some former NFL and NHL players took part in the event.
Association president Scott Rudder said there’s excitement for the year ahead because after the sixth medical marijuana dispensary completes the work needed to open, that triggers the ability for the state to issue more licenses.
“We expect in 2018 there is going to be significant growth in the medical cannabis industry, regardless of who wins in November,” Rudder said. “But certainly if Phil Murphy wins in November, the adult market comes into play.”
Murphy wasn’t there, but got loud applause. Elder-law attorney Harold Grodberg, who attended because he’s advocating for a more expansive medical program, suspects the Democratic front-runner in the polls is the reason for the growth in interest.
“I think that there’s 400 people here today because one of the candidates running for governor seems to be pretty in favor of expansion and liberalization of the program, and I hope that will apply to the medical side as well as the recreational,” Grodberg said.
In addition to some speakers, there were tables at the meeting where would-be vendors pitched their wares – from things such as hemp products to more humdrum considerations, such as security and child-resistant packaging.
Doug Rofheart, sales manager for Sonic Packaging, said he “absolutely” sees an opportunity in New Jersey.
“When it goes recreational here, and dispensaries have to – they’re not going to let you walk out without a child-resistant package. The last thing you want is your kid or somebody else’s kid eating a gummy bear or a cookie or some other product,” said Rofheart, who said western states that were legal-marijuana pioneers have also stepped-up packaging mandates.
Lawyers and accountants made up a good share of audience – businesses that would be in position to support front-line businesses if the industry gets off the ground.
Alex Banzhaf said the Saiber Law Firm, based primarily in Florham Park, recently launched a cannabis law practice and wants to ready if it becomes legal in the state next year. He emphasized that after last year’s election, nobody is predicting who will be next governor, regardless of the polls.
“But I think clearly this is moving in a positive direction towards legalization, and if it happens, terrific, we’ll be there to help people. And if not, it may eventually in the future,” Banzhaf said.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said his goal is to have a legalization bill signed into law within the first hundred days of what he hopes will be Murphy’s governorship. He said changes are being made to the bill he introduced in May and expects that hearings and a vote would be held next year, in the new legislative session.
“The entrepreneurial spirit of New Jersey is showing here in the room, and people have a keen interest in what I see as the next great economic opportunity for citizens in New Jersey,” said Scutari, the event’s keynote speaker.
That would please Binko. She’s “a firm believer” that marijuana should be legal, in part because her 28-year-old son, who was diagnosed more than a decade ago with epilepsy, spends close to $600 an ounce for legally purchased but hard-to-obtain medical marijuana.
She’d prefer that the federal government make it legal, calling it “very frightening” to would-be business owners.
“For the federal government to be able to step in at any time and pull the rug out from under people makes it a little scary,” Binko said. “Because if you’re willing to invest a million dollars or whatever into a business, you don’t want it to be able to be shut down because someone changed their mind, some politician.”
Grodberg said he’s hopeful the federal government won’t interfere.
“Right now, we’re actually in a good place with federal law,” Grodberg said. “The attorney general had an opportunity to kind of backpedal on the space that they’ve created for legal recreational and medical marijuana on a statewide basis, and in July he could have taken away the carve-out they’ve made, and they didn’t do it. So we’re hoping that’s a good sign for things going forward.”
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