Jenna Misciascio, a student at Stockton University in Pomona, NJ, hopes to launch a career in the cannabis industry.
“It's not really an industry yet, unless you go into medical,” she told a group of students, teachers and area residents at a forum on the potential economic impact of cannabis legalization in New Jersey on Monday, April 29, 2019. “If the legislation is passed, I want to find a way to combine adult use and hospitality.”
Misciascio is the founder and president of Student Marijuana Alliance for Research and Transparency (SMART) on the Stockton campus. She said she wanted to make sure cannabis remains available to patients and to see adult use approved in New Jersey, seeing it as a source for jobs for herself and her fellow students after graduation.
Her organization sponsored the forum: “Cannabis – The Future of Jobs in New Jersey” at the university. She was joined on the panel by Kelly Crosson, the vice president of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, Kelli Hykes, director of government relations at Weedmaps.com, and two people from the Compassionate Care Foundation, a medical marijuana facility in Egg Harbor Township near Stockton; Tim Weigand, the dispensary and facilities manager and Renato Paoli, an assistant grower.
Attorney Bridget Hill Zayat, who specializes in marijuana law and is an adjunct professor who teaches a class on the topic at Stockton, served as moderator.
Will the jobs be there?
Stockton University offers a cannabis studies certificate program and a cannabis studies minor, with classes in cultivation, medical marijuana, cannabis law, and other topics. Weigand said the certificate would be a leg up for candidates applying for jobs. New Jersey's medical marijuana market is expected to expand considerably in the coming years, with existing dispensaries adding capacity even as new dispensaries move through the approval process.
But Misciascio wonders if an adult-use market will be launched before she starts her career, or will many of the students now at Stockton take their skills out of the state after graduation?
New Jersey delayed a vote on legalization set for March 25, 2019. Despite support from Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney, both Democrats, the vote would have fallen short in the state Senate. Several sources expect it to come back for a vote in May 2019, although no vote has yet been scheduled.
Advocates, including Hykes and Crosson, describe the New Jersey bill as a landmark piece of legislation. It includes provisions for social justice issues like expungement for marijuana convictions and paths for small-scale entrepreneurs, including women and minorities, to get involved in the industry.
If that approval comes, estimates are that New Jersey could see a billion-dollar marijuana industry in short order, with a possibility that it could quickly double.
“We're a population of over 9 million. We need one dispensary for every 10,0000 residents to actually meet consumer demand,” Hykes said. That would work out to 900 dispensaries across the state, compared to six now open with six more in the works. “There's a lot of room to grow, no pun intended.”
Much Like Other Jobs
A recent state report found that the medical marijuana program in New Jersey will need to grow almost exponentially to keep up with the expected demand. Compassionate Care has a large-scale expansion underway, with plans for new facilities and more growing capacity.
At the forum, Weigand advised students to make the most of every opportunity. He used Paoli as an example. He was at a conference on cannabis when a speaker was a no-show.
“Renato had the guts to stick up his hand,” Weigand said. Paoli gave a presentation of his own. A member of Compassionate Care's board of directors happened to be on hand and passed Paoli's information on to Weigand, who offered him a job.
“I emphasize that for my employees all the time: Find your own unique way to show your value,” he said.
Some on the panel indicated that the cannabis industry is not much different than other businesses. It is highly regulated and is likely to continue to be as laws are reformed, but many of the same qualities that make a good job candidate in other industries will apply in cannabis.
“It all sounds very grand and kind of scary and a little bit exciting, but it really is just another regulated commodity, in a sense. That way you can make it sound a little boring but it's true,” Crosson said.
For Hykes, it comes to finding your skills and your passion.
“It's not 'I want to be in the cannabis industry,' it's 'what do I do well and how can I use that in the cannabis industry?'” she said.
Auxiliary jobs can have a big impact, Hykes said.
“They don't touch the plants, but they get to be a part of creating a whole new industry and touch so many lives in the process. They're doing what they do well in this space,” she said. “They're not in cannabis to be in cannabis. They're doing what they do really well for the benefit of the cannabis industry.”
For many entry-level positions, experience in a warehouse, nursery or garden center could be more important than knowledge about cannabis, Weigand said. He said he can teach people what they need to know about pruning and cultivation, but cannot teach someone how to arrive at work on time or to smile at customers.
“I'm not impressed with a 12-plant closet grow that somebody's showing me pictures of on their phone. There's a world of a difference between something like that and running a facility with over 4,000 plants,” he said.
A woman attending the event said she is a massage therapist interested in incorporating CBD oil into her work, but needed advice. It's a tough issue, Crosson said, with complicated and overlapping laws at the state and federal level.
“Until there is a resolution, I think you're going to have to wait,” Crosson said.
“I would take it a step further. Instead of waiting, you should advocate,” added Hykes. She suggested the woman call her local representatives, along with the Senate president and the governor.
“Tell them that you're a business owner and that you need this legislation to pass,” she said. “Because you have patients and you have a business model and you are ready to invest in the community.”
Guidance on whom to contact and how to advocate can be found at Weedmaps.com, she said, and other sites.Guidance on whom to contact and how to advocate can be found at Weedmaps.com, she said, and other sites. Click To Tweet
“What would really help the industry would be to end federal prohibition,” Zayat said, “so maybe don't stop with the state.”
Feature image: Photo by Bill Barlow