Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney speaks with Randy Bergmann, APP.com editorial page editor, Charles Stile political columnist for USA TODAY Network – NJ and Mike Kelly, northjersey.com columnist at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, NJ. Tanya Breen, Brian Johnston and Ryan Ross, Asbury Park Press
NEW YORK — With the road to legal weed in New York and New Jersey slow and winding, cannabis advocates Friday said they would continue to chip away at the negative public perception and hope lawmakers will come around.
A new incarnation of refer madness seems to be taking hold, one New Jersey official said jokingly, and people are nervous the Garden State will turn into, say, Oregon gone crazy, with kids freely consuming marijuana and falling out of trees.
The key to getting legalized recreational marijuana across the finish line: “Being responsible members of the community,” said Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner of medical marijuana for the New Jersey Department of Health. “That’s really the big thing.”
Brown was joined by his New York counterpart, Axel Bernabe, on a panel in front of a standing room only crowd at the Cannibas World Congress & Business Exposition, a trade show at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center.
The event, now in its sixth year, had a chance to be a celebration. But New Jersey and New York, while inching closer to passing legislation to make recreational marijuana legal, have yet to take the leap.
See New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney talk in the video above about the prospects for legal weed.
“These remain very difficult programs to actually pass on the East Coast,” said Paul Josephson, an attorney with Duane Morris in Cherry Hill, N.J., who represents the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a trade group.
Even if both states passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, he said, they would continue to find opposition from power brokers — county officials in New York and municipal officials in New Jersey.
Not that the industry hasn’t made inroads. The annual expo, organized by Leading Edge Expositions in Paramus, started six years ago with 15 exhibitors. This year, there were 176, Gregory Marco, president of Leading Edge said.
It would be difficult to tell the vendors apart from any other trade show. They pitched the latest in cultivating plants, legal and accounting advice, marketing plans, and samples of CBD gummy bears, which were perfectly legal, if not well regulated.
They offered stylish vape pens, cannabis tours and personalized health assessments to match your genetics with the perfect strain, although at times it looked like they were selling supplies for a party that has yet to be finalized.
Ome CannabisDNA in Jersey City offers genetic tests to maximize the benefits of cannabis, and it isn’t an easy product to get off the ground. Not only isn’t weed universally legal, but also Facebook and Google don’t allow companies to advertise cannabis, Dean Crutchfield, chief business officer said.
It’s like working with your hands tied behind your back, he said.
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Still, the company is attracting investors. “It will come around,” Crutchfield said. “The green prohibition is over. We have the green wave. And it’s going to come over.”
The two states are plodding along. New Jersey, after failing to muster the votes for legal recreational marijuana, agreed this week to expand its medical marijuana program. New York lawmakers in January introduced a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana; advocates hope it will be approved before the legislative session ends in mid-June.
Meanwhile, there was no shortage of vendors selling CBD products — oil from the cannabis plant that is legal and doesn’t contain THC, the ingredient that causes highs.
CBD is “the bridge between now and legalized cannabis,” Marco of Leading Edge said.
While they wait for the votes, the region’s officials said they were focusing on expanding their legal medical marijuana programs and building the industrial hemp market.
They hope it helps win over a nervous public. New York’s Bernabe said the state wants cannabis companies to focus beyond profits and improve the public’s health, eliminate racial inequality and revitalize economically distressed towns.
“The value proposition is incredibly important,” New Jersey’s Brown said. ‘How is it going to make life better for people in that program?”
Michael L. Diamond is an award-winning reporter who has been writing about the New Jersey economy for 20 years. He can be reached at 732-643-4038; firstname.lastname@example.org; or @mdiamondapp.
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