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Two weeks ago, we traveled to New Jersey for an event co-sponsored by the Business of Cannabis, the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association and the law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP.
New Jersey is on the cusp of a rapid expansion of their medical cannabis regulations – which will be a lead in to full, adult use recreational legalization in the not-too-distant future.
The daylong event brought together industry, government, advocates and non-profit leaders for a 360-degree update on that State’s progress and hurdles.
Here’s what we learned about where NJ is going, how, when and what the engagement opportunities are:
New Jersey is serious – and prepared
Leaders in New Jersey have done their homework. They are taking best practices from around North America – and the world – as they plan their cannabis path forward. Governor Phil Murphy, who replaced Republican Chris Christie earlier this year, is an advocate for medical cannabis first and foremost - with adult-use recreational cannabis following quickly behind. And his leadership is palpable. Unlike California, Colorado and other western states, New Jersey’s cannabis expansion will be done by statute and legislative process – not by ballot initiative. The result will be a policy that will regulate more thoughtfully and be implemented more seamlessly than has been seen in the western US.
Banking still holds the US back and pushes Canada forward
Operating in a regulated cannabis industry takes resources. These resources are difficult to come by, especially when nearly every bank in the US is somewhere between paranoid and resistant about being involved in the cannabis industry. The result? Some states are operating on a large scale, but not a national scale. US capital markets are closed to US cannabis companies – which holds the US cannabis industry back considerably. Which is why you have seen US companies go public in Canada and why you have seen Canadian cannabis companies flourish.
Canada has a lot to share
As an industry in Canada, we often dwell on things that are happening that we do not like. Through this lens, it is difficult to see the good forest through the troubling trees. Yet, here we are on the cusp of a national adult-use recreational legalization game plan in Canada. Companies in Canada are expanding, innovating and preparing for domestic and worldwide markets. We are leading in many, many ways – and we should be proud and we should share our experience broadly.
“Compliance” in US does not mean the same thing as it does in Canada
Canada’s industry was developed with two key points in mind – driving out the black market and keeping cannabis out of young peoples’ hands. To do this, our country has taken a national approach and a highly regulated, compliance-first approach. The Government expects operators to know where all products are at all times in the process – and third party testing and quality assurance are paramount. The US is not there yet. This is partly because of the scatter-shot, state-by-state approach, partly because of the mishmash of how cannabis is becoming legal – voter mandate versus legislative process – and partly because for generations, the black market has flourished and black market forces supplying a country of cannabis users that lacks a national approach is nearly impossible to enforce compliance.
Visiting New Jersey on the cusp of real change on the cannabis file while simultaneous viewing the Canadian landscape in real-time provided a unique vantage point and insight. As an increasingly global cannabis industry, Ample Organics alone operates on four continents and we have a lot to learn from each other’s success, and failures. The result, we can all hope, is an industry that continues to drive home compliance and safety while also continuing to evolve and innovate.
As Canada moves ahead toward October 17, 2018 – you can be certain that US states like New Jersey will be learning and adapting their program based on our successes as well as our own “teachable moments”.
Stayed tuned for more updates on New Jersey’s path forward.
President & CEO
Co-Founder & President
Business of Cannabis