Hundreds of people came out to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on a chilly Newark evening in January to learn how they might be able to get a piece of New Jersey’s recreational marijuana industry.
No bill has been passed, so there is no recreational marijuana industry in New Jersey. Still, many attendees of the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium had green in their eyes as they heard about a new industry, one that offers more ways to make money than just from growing and selling marijuana.
This NJ Advance Media reporter recently went to Oregon and Washington to get a sense of different parts of the industry opportunities. According to a 2017 report from Leafly, Washington and Oregon had 22,952 and 11,295 full-time cannabis jobs, respectively.
Should New Jersey legalize recreational marijuana, thousands of jobs would follow, likely generating more than $1 billion in economic activity.
Here are some of those opportunities, starting with the obvious:
Cultivation is the foundation of the marijuana industry. After all, it’s tough to sell or tax weed if it’s not being grown.
But these typically aren’t like when your college roommate grew a couple of plants in a closet. As marijuana industries mature, grows become increasingly sophisticated.
At House of Cultivar, a grow operation in Seattle, room after room of cannabis is grown using state of the art technology designed to cultivate the highest quality marijuana.
On a recent tour, Matthew Gaboury, one of the company’s founders, showed off the 20,000 square feet of marijuana canopy at House of Cultivar.
“We have 300 active strains,” he said, talking about the different types of weed he grows. “With 25 strains growing at any one time.”
After the marijuana is grown, it gets dried, cured and packaged before being sent to retailers, where customers can get their hands on the product.
New Jersey has five medical marijuana dispensaries. Should state lawmakers approve recreational weed, that number would spike. Oregon, for example, has 523 licensed marijuana retailers, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the state’s cannabis industry.
Dispensaries sell a variety of products, including marijuana buds, concentrates, edibles, lotions and drinks, among others. At Farma, a dispensary in Portland, a budtender — yes, that’s what the dispensary employees are called — sold this reporter a tin of cannabis-infused mints.
After marijuana is harvested, but before it ends up on dispensary shelves, the plant is often stripped of its oil, which is then used to make a variety of products. Those include concentrate, hash, wax and distillate.
The oils are stripped using chemicals like carbon dioxide or ethanol.
A common way to see processed marijuana in dispensaries is in concentrate cartridges, which are connected to a battery that vaporizes the concentrate when a person inhales using a mouthpiece.
Who acts as the processor depends on the state. At House of Cultivar in Seattle, they process marijuana in house. But Moto Perpetuo, a farm in western Oregon, partners with a processing company that makes the oil used in Moto Perpetuo’s cartridges.
Cannabis oil is also crucial in edibles.
Jill Trinchero, founder and CEO of She Don’t Know, an Oregon edibles company, makes a few different marijuana-infused snacks, but her flagship product is a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie.
Trinchero began in her personal kitchen, but now bakes her cannabis confections in a shared kitchen she owns and rents out to other edible makers.
So you thought the only way to make money in marijuana was to grow or sell the plant? Time to reconsider. Now comes the sizable part of the industry that never actually touches the plant.
At Farma in Portland or Have a Heart in Seattle, or any other the other dispensaries this reporter has ever entered, the products come in clean packaging with some sort of branded label.
Nicholas Kovacevich, CEO of Kush Bottles, one of the prominent packaging companies serving the cannabis industry, said the business is about more than just providing jars to display buds in. Kush Bottles also sells grinders, vaporizers batteries and chargers, among other products.
In 2014, the company made $1.4 million. Last year, Kush Bottles raked in $18.8 million in revenue, Kovacevich said.
He projects the company will make $9 million just in the first quarter of 2018.
As wildfires ravaged California last fall, cannabis growers in the state were sweating more than the average business owner. Since federal law prohibits marijuana, traditional insurance companies don’t cover cannabis crops, meaning anything lost in the blazes would remain so for most of the farmers.
But at CannaCon, a marijuana industry convention held in Seattle last month, smaller insurers had booths advertising coverage specifically geared toward the industry.
As the marijuana industry matures, areas that underserve the industry, namely banking and insurance, are expected to become more widely available.
Garden State Dispensary, one of New Jersey’s medical marijuana outposts, employs retired law enforcement officers to keep watch during business hours. It’s also required to have controlled access between the lobby and where the marijuana is actually sold.
Moto Perpetuo, the Oregon farm, has 47 cameras with eyes all over its farm and the owners say that’s still not enough for state regulators.
The combination of a product that has long been sold on the black market and businesses that operate almost entirely in cash means security is a top priority in the cannabis industry.
When Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a review of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program in January, he said he was open to allowing the dispensaries to deliver marijuana to patients. Most of Oregon’s recreational dispensaries offer delivery services.
“You’ve got home delivery in a lot of states right now,” said Aaron Epstein, general manager of Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge. “One of the things that we see is that there is really two ways of handling it. One being third party delivery companies…or doing it internally.”
Could cannabis delivery one day resemble food delivery?
Around 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night in mid-February, the NW Cannabis Club in Portland was relaxed. Less than two dozen people sat spread around a cozy, if shabby, lounge area on the top floor. A handful of people, who had a dog with them, sat at one table, sharing a bong.
Downstairs there weren’t any people, but there were more sunken couches, table games and community smoking contraptions. A scant amount of crumbled marijuana was scattered on a bar top next to a pack of rolling papers.
Twenty dollars buys a lifetime membership to the cannabis club and members need only pay $5 per visit to come inside and smoke their marijuana. Legally.
Most states that have legalized marijuana require that it be consumed in a private residence. Smoking in public still solicits a citation. Oregon has gotten around this by allowing social consumption lounges, though they haven’t proliferated.
Denver just issued its first license allowing a social use coffee shop, the Denver Post reported. Customers will be allowed to vape (vaporize marijuana) and eat edibles, but they won’t be allowed to smoke.
New Jersey state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, has floated the idea of “consumption zones” where people could consume marijuana.
Those who want in on the marijuana industry but aren’t feeling entrepreneurial can still get a piece by investing in the stock of marijuana companies. Bloomberg reported this week that Nasdaq has listed its first cannabis stock: Cronos Group Inc.
Other cannabis companies have their stock listed on other, lesser-known exchanges, including the company Medicine Man Technology.
Medicine Man CEO Brett Roper said the industry thought there was no chance the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates the stock market, would allow cannabis companies to be listed. But then it did.
“We on the sideline said there’s no way in hell this is going through,” Roper said. “Quietly and surprisingly the SEC said cannabis was legal in the public marketplace. We all scratched our heads and said ‘what the hell just happened?'”
The list goes on
The arms of the marijuana industry listed above do not comprise an exhaustive list of ways to make money in cannabis. Just in the growing process alone there are countless other options: Lighting, soil, chemicals and filtration, to name a few.
Industry insiders figure New Jersey could generate more than $1 billion in cannabis revenue if recreational marijuana were to become legal in the state. Many experts say that number is conservative.
Recreational bills have been introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly, but it’s unclear if they have the momentum to advance. Gov. Murphy has said he would sign a bill legalizing marijuana.
So how much money can you make?
The amount of money that can be made in the legal cannabis market is huge. Bridget Hill-Zayat, a cannabis attorney with the Hoban Law Group in Philadelphia, told state lawmakers on Monday that the recreational cannabis industry in the United States is already worth $10 billion per year. It grows with every state that goes recreational.
Still, reliable income estimates for the above jobs are hard to come by, experts say. They change drastically depending on the state and the specific laws. Plenty of cultivators and dispensaries have either had to sell their licenses or go out of business in states like Oregon and Washington, while companies like Kush Bottles rake in millions every year.