NJ is key to East Coast adult-use cannabis legalization, stakeholders say

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New Jersey is the “linchpin” for coming recreational marijuana legalization on the East Coast, a panel of industry experts said Tuesday on the second day of MJBizConNEXT Direct, Marijuana Business Daily‘s three-day virtual cannabis business conference.

Panelist Rob DiPisa, partner and co-chair of cannabis law group Cole Schotz, called New Jersey a “hot market” that has continuously expanded its medical marijuana program and, therefore, has the infrastructure in place for a successful recreational program.

“It’s something of a linchpin. I think New Jersey ties the knot,” said Jeremy Unruh, senior vice president of public and regulatory affairs for Illinois-based cannabis firm PharmaCann. “It also places a tremendous amount of pressure on New York” to legalize.

Unruh pointed out that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t want to see state revenue go to bordering New Jersey.

“The focus right now is certainly New York and New Jersey,” DiPisa added.

Unruh said the likelihood of New York legalizing recreational marijuana in the near future is “limited at best.”

He also said it will be difficult for New York’s lawmakers to take up social justice and inclusion questions during the coronavirus pandemic.

But pressure from New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as New York’s substantial budgetary issues could help to drive the governor’s budget in 2021, Unruh added.

Bridget Hill-Zayat, counsel for Denver-based Hoban Law Group, said Pennsylvania might see momentum toward adult-use legalization because of the state’s massive budget shortfall amid the pandemic.

“People who weren’t considering adult use previously may be taking another look,” she said.

Unruh added that “gaming and cannabis are really the only two turnkey options to generate revenue for the state.”

Another state ripe for recreational legalization is Maryland, Hill-Zayat said. It’s “an inevitability,” she added. “The money is too palatable right now.”

She noted that, in other markets, converting from medical marijuana to a recreational program is the “natural progression.”

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– Bart Schaneman