NJ cannabis industry leaders gather as marijuana legalization advances

CARTERET, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey opened applications for permits to sell marijuana legally at retail shops Tuesday, and on Wednesday, leaders in the industry gathered for a massive conference touting the economic benefits for the state.

The early predictions say cannabis will be a $2 billion industry in the state in five years. While retailers are hoping to become loaded with cash, much of that money will be made behind the scenes.

"When you look at how retail facilities are established and the rules and regulations guiding them, it will be more difficult to enter into a cannabis retail facility than it is a liquor store," New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Edmund DeVeaux said.

DeVeaux predicts the first retail shops will open by the fall. and the buzz words at the conference focused on the overall economics of the cannabis industry, including modern technology to keep it safe from hackers.

"Security is super important," IT expert Mike Bloomfield said. "You want to do it when you're growing your business. You don't want to do it after the fact."

Not only are these business worried about being lifted from the outside, but they also need ways to protect themselves from the ordinary criminals.

"We're actually using AI to see what the order is going to be or might be and have those orders ready for you on the side," security expert Ramon Ronquillo said. "Speeding up the entire retail chain."

The CannaBusiness Association is already growing roots in college programs, where students want to get in on the ground floor.

"If you already have skills in accounting or marketing or finance or supply chain or event planning and management, those are all things that the industry has told us we need crossover talent," Rowan University Assistant Dean Jennifer Maden said.

Plus, this cash only business will need to have insurance to cover any unexpected losses.

"You have to have emergency preparation, worker protection, environmental health and safety measures," CannaCoverage CEO Nichelle Santos said.

There is still the concern to make sure the state's promise to include minorities, women, and disabled veterans is kept, since it could take up to $10 million to get started in the retail side of the industry.

"Don't believe the hype," said John Harmon, with the African American Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of folks have imparted to that this is going to be pretty simple, but it is not."

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