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The business of cannabis: Q&A: Lots of questions, lots of answers

Panelist John Pellitteri, right, responds to a question as Bill Caruso and George Schidlovsky look on during the discussion.
Panelist John Pellitteri, right, responds to a question as Bill Caruso and George Schidlovsky look on during the discussion. - ()

NJBIZ: What’s the current state of the industry in the state?

George Schidlovsky (Compassionate Sciences): The Department of Health, back in 2010, passed the current regulations. There are 14 qualifying conditions and there are five dispensaries in the state. Currently, 12,000 people are registered in the program. There are over 350 doctors who are registered to recommend cannabis; they see it as a tool in their toolbox to help patients feel better.

The industry is growing. (At Compassionate Sciences), we’re bringing in about 500 patients a month to the program.

NJBIZ: Why is New Jersey perfectly positioned to be a major player in the cannabis industry?

George Schidlovsky (Compassionate Sciences): New Jersey has a deeply embedded pharma system and, as a result, has a lot of health care systems. These health care systems have patients that qualify under the current program. And our neighboring state, Pennsylvania, has some of the biggest health care systems in the nation.

The federal government is working with these health care systems and universities ... writing the protocols for clinical trials. The science will be developed in this region of the country. Maybe some of the universities out west will play a role, but, traditionally, the clinical trials will be done here. The health systems will create the clinical trials, which will then be submitted to the Academy of Sciences, which will then be the basis for legislation. There’s a very slow-moving, big cycle that’s happening in Washington right now, (but) it’s going to happen.

Bill Caruso (Archer & Greiner): We are primely situated due to our nexus on health care, both from a regional perspective, but from within our borders, the proximity to phenomenally educated talent. And, if you’re paying attention, college-age kids right now are not staying here because they can’t afford to stay in New Jersey and there are no good jobs here anymore. This is an ability to keep our young talent in our state. It’s a new economy. So, there’s another exciting effort that’s underway. We are right in the hub for where health care, education and this new industry merge together and do something phenomenally special.

NJBIZ: Why aren’t we further ahead?

Bill Caruso (Archer & Greiner): The leading research right now is coming from outside our country, in Canada, Israel, and that’s a shame. We should be capturing some of that here. When we wrote the medicinal law in 2008, some of the original intention was to make Rutgers, which has a fabulous nexus of health care, food science, agriculture, the place to house the medicinal component on the research side. They said, ‘No, thanks. We don’t want to go anywhere near this; we are federally chartered, we get federal money.’

They, frankly, did the right thing because of the uncertainty at the federal level. But congressional members have, for the first time, actually grown a spine and come out and talked about this issue. There’s a cannabis caucus that’s formed, there’s good work going on in banking right now, there’s good work going on in rescheduling, there’s a budget item that went in to protect states that are engaging in this activity (and) I think that’s going to remain. I’m not convinced that there’s going to be this massive federal crackdown on medicinal or legal use. I think most of the investors know that, too; that’s why there is so much excitement going on here.

NJBIZ: How can we legalize marijuana during an opioid crisis?

George Schidlovsky (Compassionate Sciences): As far as opioids go, out of the 4,000 patients we service, about 40 percent are weaning themselves off of opioids as an alternative. It’s ridiculous and hypocritical that the treatment centers are against this. This is deeply rooted in the program.

NJBIZ: How do business groups stand on the issue?

Bill Caruso (Archer & Greiner): I don’t know that there’s a united umbrella, but there’s a common bond among organizations, (including the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association). These are business organizations that wanted nothing to do with these discussions, didn’t want to be involved in it, didn’t want to acknowledge there was a potential industry. That’s changed.

NJBIZ: OK, so who is against it?

Bill Caruso (Archer & Greiner): The one thing I would quibble with is that strong opposition is out there. There have been two hearings in Trenton; we have put forth phenomenal testimony on everything under the sun in terms of the industry, the medicinal benefits, the impediments to usage right now because of legalization and all the civil and social justice reasons why (it’s a good thing), in addition to the economic effort. There’s been little to no opposition that comes out to testify against these bills.

There’s been a smattering of people, not a big, organized movement that’s coming out against this right now, and I think that is a sign that we’re winning hearts and minds.


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