Despite the limited scope of the state’s medical cannabis law, and the strong opposition by its governor, the president of the newly-formed New Jersey Cannabusiness Association is optimistic about the industry’s future in the Garden State, but any major overhauls will most certainly wait until 2018.

“No one expects Gov. [Chris] Christie to sign an adult-use bill,” Scott Rudder, the association president and former state legislator, said in an interview with Ganjapreneur. “Gov. Christie’s term ends in January 2018 – so one year from now we’ll have a new governor. Our job is to work with the various candidates…to get their buy-in and support for both the expansion of the medical program as well as the migration into an adult-use program.”

Admittedly, it took a while for Rudder, 47, to get here – actively supporting an adult-use program in the state where the Republican served two terms in the legislature (he did not seek reelection in 2013). In 2009 he had an opportunity to vote on the medical cannabis bill and abstained. “I was not there yet,” he explained, describing his mindset eight years ago. “I was uncomfortable.”

But as time went on, Rudder did more research and spent time with the Wilson family – who moved from New Jersey to Colorado in 2014 in order to access medical cannabis for their then-3-year-old daughter Vivian, who suffers from Dravet syndrome. He called the experience “transformational” and realized that New Jersey’s medical cannabis program had failed the family.

“Who are we to say, as legislators, what a doctor should and should not prescribe to somebody in need,” Rudder said. “So that was sort of the awakening if you will.”

He was one of the members of the New Jersey delegation that went on a fact-finding mission to Colorado last October, where legislators and stakeholders met with state health officials, members of law enforcement, and industry leaders. He came away thinking, “The benefits dramatically outweigh any of the concerns.”

“After discussions with folks in the legislature and folks in the industry, I felt that there was a need for an industry-based trade association to help businesses that currently exist in New Jersey, that currently operate in New Jersey but also to help grow the industry as we are moving forward.”

From the organization’s website:

The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association’s mission is simple: “Promote jobs and growth in a sustainable and responsible cannabis industry. Starting with the pioneers in the medical marijuana market to the emerging players in the adult-use space, our focus is to make certain that decision makers and regulators understand and respect the needs of the CannaBusiness community and that our community remain responsible corporate citizens.”

In addition to the companies already operating under New Jersey’s medical cannabis program, Rudder explained that there are people living in the state that are engaged in other state markets, whether it’s ownership or investment, and many individuals and entities have already started preparing for eventual legalization in New Jersey after Christie’s term ends. The association is not only building a network between business owners and stakeholders but also hopes to educate the public and lawmakers through outreach, while advocating for a “welcoming and not limited” regulatory structure. Based on conversations with his former colleagues, Rudder said it’s clear that eliminating the informal market is a bipartisan issue.

“Everybody wants to make sure it’s not something kids are buying on street corners,” he said. “You see time and again where cannabis is legalized… crime goes down, teenage use goes down – and that’s something we are going to experience in New Jersey as well.”

The association is still debating which regulation model best suits the state but it’s important to the organization that the medical cannabis program not only remains intact but is expanded. Rudder applauded the recent move by Christie to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the qualifying condition list but would still like to see more comprehensive reforms, including the number of qualifying conditions and dispensaries operating in the state.

According to a New Jersey Policy Perspective and New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform report, a “fully implemented” adult-use market in the state “could generate at least $300 million in annual direct tax revenues.” Rudder predicts – based on Colorado’s sales numbers and studies on New Jersey’s informal cannabis market – that his state could “surpass Colorado in terms of jobs created [and] revenue generated.”

“This movement in New Jersey has been happening for quite some time,” he said, commenting on whether or not the push in the state is the result of the recent electoral success in fellow Eastern states Maine and Massachusetts. “It’s more of a groundswell at a local level here in Jersey than anything that is a direct result of what’s happened in other states. Though, it’s fantastic to see how other states are reacting to it.”

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