Susanna Short, Policy Advocate, New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association
Susanna is a dynamic executive who has experience in a range of industries. Her facility for learning, keen analytical skills, charismatic personality, and integrity serve her and her clients well.
She’s currently a Policy Advocate in The New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, a nonprofit trade association dedicated to advancing the legalization of cannabis.
Their mission is to promote sensible policy, responsible growth and development of New Jersey’s cannabis industry. The NJCIA is the industry leader for all sectors including biotechnology, cultivation, manufacturing, retail, finance, security, industrial hemp, and consulting services.
[00:00:01] You're listening to Thinking Outside the Bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.
[00:00:30] Are you a CEO looking to scale your company faster and easier. Checkout Thrive Roundtable thrive combines a moderated peer group mastermind expert one on one coaching access to proven growth tools and a 24/7 support community created by Inc. Award winning CEO and certified scaling up business coach Bruce Eckfeldt. Thrive will help you grow your business more quickly and with less drama. For details on the program visit Eckfeldt.com/thrive. That's E C K F E L D T.com/thrive.
[00:01:07] Welcome, everyone. This is Thinking Outside the Bud. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host. And our guest today is Susanna Short and she is a policy advocate working with the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association. She's in charge of strategic development, very involved in the industry, very involved in policy, both locally, nationally, internationally. I'm excited for this. I think there's some really interesting things and exciting things going on in New Jersey and New York and the Northeast. So I think we have a really good, interesting conversation with that. Susanna, welcome to the program.
[00:01:34] Thanks so much, Bruce. I just had this I don't know a moment. I'm like, what the heck? I'm on a cannabis podcast. You know, I really never expected to be here in this place, but it is a place where I really authentically reside at this point. And so I'm grateful to have the opportunity to connect with you and with your broader audience.
[00:01:49] Yeah, well, it's a pleasure. So why don't we start with that? In terms of figuring out or understanding how you got into the cannabis space, so what was what was the background, what transpired to kind of get you into this exciting domain of cannabis legislation and, um, policy development?
[00:02:07] What was the background? Give us a give us a story.
[00:02:09] Sure. It's such a great way to learn about people to ask them why cannabis? Because you you see how for so many people, including myself, it's the intersection of professional and personal experiences that they've had to date that come here in this place. Right. So so what are my intersecting points? So I've had regulated industry experience for the past decade. I've operated at an executive level in insurance agency, super glamorous, really exciting work. But in that context, you know, I've been working in a compliant manner and complying with state agencies. Write insurance is regulated by state just as cannabis is. I've worked with life insurance clients and talked to them about their health and wellness and their prescription drugs and interactions and these sorts of things without giving medical diagnoses or I'm medical advice also applicable to the cannabis space. And there's hippo guidelines and FINRA rules that, you know, that oversee all of this. So I'm definitely in. You know, I have working knowledge of highly regulated industry, but my Segway into insurance was was not expected. I. It is a family insurance agency. And my husband and I have been running that agency for the past decade. And we've we've really expanded it and have done quite well with it.
[00:03:17] And it is a very you know, I just kind of backed insurance, but it is actually giving you a lot of money and success.
[00:03:24] It's a very valuable service. And, you know, customer service is at the root of it. We have the highest retention, the state of New Jersey for the past eight years. We're happy about that. But I had been before that I had run a successful S.A.T. prep and college admissions advising business. I'm in New Jersey and really do see myself as an educator. And that background in education is another intersecting point. You know, here in Kansas, there's such a need for education, education, policymakers, education, the general public education of healthcare providers, patients, caregivers. So I bring that now to the cannabis industry. My first job out of college was working as a community organizer in East New York and in Brooklyn. And I worked with the East Brooklyn Congregations, which is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, and I worked on minority policing, affordable housing, ESL parents advocacy in the schools, and also the location of a methadone clinic in the neighborhood, which again, you know, has some applicability. Now, as you I work with cannabis companies who are locating in municipalities and trying to garner community support and make a case for how they can be good corporate citizens so that the community organizing model is one that I think I have taken really throughout my professional career. And in that model, you don't go into a neighborhood or into a community and and change things. Rather, you identify people who already are leaders in the community or have a network and you make sure that they have the you help them develop the skills that they might need and that they have the resources that they need to be agents of change themselves.
[00:04:53] And so that's really my executive leadership style. You know, as I've gone forward and it's pretty collaborative. And so as I so a couple of years ago, somebody approached my husband to meet with a potential investment opportunity in cannabis. And we have been looking to diversify. Just, you know, we have all the eggs in the insurance basket and we've been thinking about some other options. So I started doing my due diligence from an investor's perspective. And as I was researching the policies and looking at the programs, I was saying, oh, my goodness, wait a second. This is actually, like I said, that intersection, right, of race on social justice, which has been authentically important to me my whole life of education, of health. Wellness of regulated industry, experience of entrepreneurial ism. Sign me up right now. So I started to call some of the advocates in the state who were working for patient rights essentially and talked to them about what do they want to see change in the industry. I read the laws and I read the regulations brushed up on my understanding of how does a bill get passed, a different hurdle and a rag to certain things and started to network right and volunteer my time essentially in helping to normalize, destigmatize and advocate for a few things. And so now I do a few things. But the crux of it is, is my volunteer work with the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association.
[00:06:11] And I don't know if you want to ask me a question about it, so let's just Segway into that a little bit. So I know there's lots of different associations and different kind of policy groups, both nationally, you know, at local levels.
[00:06:22] Talk to us about what this group is specifically kind of charged your mission to with doing and how it kind of fits into the eco system here on the New Jersey area.
[00:06:30] Great. Great. Yeah. So I am not necessarily I have not always had this area of primacy of focus on the NJ CIA, the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association. I have worked with other trade associations, other advocacy groups, and there are sort of umbrella organizations opposed to the national level and then even locally. So I do consider myself to be a supporter and an advocate alongside many of the grassroots efforts in the state. And it's very important to me. I mean, when we get the this bill got passed. When we signed the go, I didn't sign the bill.
[00:07:01] Maybe someday the next podcast when the governor signed the bill on July 2nd.
[00:07:07] Mike Hoenig, the father of Jake Hoenig, for whom the bill is named after I was up there and we've stood shoulder to shoulder advocating for for this important patient reform. And I just looked in the audience and I see see regulators and legislators and public stakeholders, private stakeholders who have really works, you know, to get this legislation through. And it really is a team effort. So with the CIA, though, which does definitely have some primacy at this point, for me, the mission essentially is to create the best context for illegal access to cannabis in the state of New Jersey. So that involves having some privacy, not using the word primacy.
[00:07:43] So much focus on patient needs really at the center of that. And then beyond that, thinking about the various stakeholders in the medical community and social justice community and the business community and, you know, how can we position these various industries and stakeholders to provide the best context for legal access to perfect.
[00:08:06] And let's talk a little bit about kind of this this regional context to some listeners here.
[00:08:11] Probably gonna be certainly national, if not international to, you know, the New York New Jersey kind of north east has been an interesting market or an interesting kind of geography for the cannabis industry in that we're not currently not adult use legal in these states. There's been some medical use laws passed, but they have they have been shifting or developing over time, I hope. Give us some context for folks listening, you know, in terms of what's the northeast, New Jersey, New York, and specifically how was this market been developing and what are the big factors that have been playing out over the last couple years?
[00:08:43] Sure, that's a great question. And it is interesting, you know, people come to the East Coast having had experience in markets like California or Colorado, and we sort of laughed it off a little bit.
[00:08:55] I love California. You know, I love Colorado.
[00:08:58] But the way that the market is shaping up here is quite different and there in a number of ways. And so one of the biggest things we want to just focus on New Jersey specifically, there's going to be there already are such limited number of licenses, right. In the industry, limited number of permits even in the medical program. And that will continue as the medical program expands. And then as the adult use legalization is formalized. So that does a number of things. First, what makes those licenses quite valuable right now? And so from an industry perspective, you can think about if people are if businesses are trying to decide where are they going to make their moves? You know, that certainly factors in. And so we really are attracting, you know, the best and most sophisticated operators at this point. You know, our program started out it was signed into law. The medical program was signed into law by Governor Corazon on his last day in office. And then the regulations were developed under Governor Christie, who was really not friendly to the program. He lives right around the corner from me. So I have to be really quiet. He was not friendly to the program. And so it was not designed in a robust way to really serve patient needs. And and it was stalled. So with Governor Murphy coming on with his executive order six now with a I have to say, the New Jersey Department of Health, the division of medicinal marijuana, which is under the direction of Jeff Brown, who is the assistant commissioner, is such a transparent government agency.
[00:10:15] And they are really good people who are working on that, who have it so patient centric and and really, really so encouraged by the efforts of that agency. Now, one of the things that is happening here on the local level as well. So I think I still am answering this question. Is that the direction of the cannabis regulation is shifting out of the Department of Health and will be under the newly formed government agency called the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. So that was called for in this July 2nd bill. So that's something that we're seeing developing here now as we look at some of the neighboring states. There are some similarities just in the types of regulations that exist among the East Coast states in the demographics, these sorts of things, the types of industry operators who are attracted to these markets. But what is interesting to me is, you know, as consumers or patients or as business owners, we do look to the neighboring states and we see this race right. We're like, there's I'm going to go prices in New York, New Jersey. And I don't see the legislators, the policymakers caring about that. That's not their motivation. There is enough rivalry within the walls of the Garden State.
[00:11:21] You know of those efforts.
[00:11:23] So so I you know, definitely that is on our minds. You know, who's going to do it first? And it is New Jersey. New Jersey will do it first. We will legalize before New York does. But that's not a motivating factor for, you know, for our politicians. So, you know, New York just passed it. Decriminalization, well, you know, in August and I'm self-correcting here for the future air date.
[00:11:42] But yeah, I would just our audience weren't recording this the end of August.
[00:11:46] This is going to air probably the end of September. So there may be a slight delta. And what we're talking about and what's actually live when you're listening to this. But yeah, I think that that's the challenge with a lot of this stuff. It's changing so quickly both in terms of, you know, the time it takes to actually implement implement the passed legislation and actually put it into practice and develop the regulations, but also changes. I mean, you know, things go sideways, things end up getting changed or adjusted as they go into implantation. So, yeah, and I think that it's interesting when you talked about the rivalry is in Newark, New Jersey. I mean, the media certainly has played up this whole or at least, you know, six months ago in our area here was playing up this whole New York, New Jersey race. Who is going to legalize first? And there was there was quite a bit of play, but it sounds like an actual legislative level. That's not that's not really dynamic, but dynamic that plays out in terms of the policy making or that it's really more of the actual policy makers in the state themselves have enough things to grapple with that they're not really focused on, on trying to beat New York or beat New Jersey in terms of getting the policies in place.
[00:12:44] Right. And, you know, I guess really that shouldn't be a motivating factor is what is somebody else doing, but only to the extent to which it affects our market. Right? Exactly. Next, the residents of this state. So it is a consideration in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
[00:12:57] And, you know, the George Washington Bridge here becomes the traffic center for the transport of cannabis, depending on which way you legalizes first.
[00:13:07] And there are some interesting thought so in the bill that we just passed on July 2nd in New Jersey, Jake Honecker law, there is now the allowance for reciprocity in our medical program. So you can come from another state to our state and show your medical card and purchase cannabis from our dispensaries. Medical dispensaries is our resources. Yeah. Time in Jersey with the New York guys. Yeah, right. Right. Exactly. So they are also working on some reciprocity agreements that the bill calls for that as well. Some more official collaborations among the states. But we will see, I think, some regionalization of cannabis. Not to the extent where, you know what we're seeing product cross state lines legally federal. Something would have to happen on the federal level for that to happen. But as far as standardizing some of the regulations or some of the program elements, there will be some regionalization. There is some to some degree. And, you know, I think that the crux of this really this potential rivalry, you're looking to other states. It really hammers home the point that there is policy and then there's politics. And that's a distinction which I become keenly aware now that I mean this. I mean, I couldn't look at policy and there can be great, great policy. It's so robust. And then politics just screws it all up. So give us an example or let's look at what happened with this bill on July 2nd. Right. So or legalization, legalization not happening in March. So there are no rivalries, political rivalries at play. And when you're trying to get votes for things, you know, if you have an ally, a political ally, it may be easier to get a vote for something.
[00:14:33] And people sometimes are guided by that. Right. And and we can see in them I mean, we can read all this stuff in the media, too, about the feuds that are that are going on between the front office, governor's office and the Senate president and, you know, just leadership in general and in some of the lobbyists in the state. So so New Jersey is highly politicized, highly politicized and really have to be sensitive. So I do see some casualties of politics in the bill that just came out on July 2nd. Now, for example, the application process that we just went through or that we went through last month, when you're listening to this, that ended at the end of August for new permits and the medical program, it was a bifurcated process, arguably a try for catered process. Some of this went through the Department of Health and then there's the establishment of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which then we'll do another call for applications. There would have been good reason to combine those efforts and not to split them out and put the burden on the municipalities and on these potential operators and on the patients to wait. Longer for these additional operators, but there was a political compromise that was struck and the result was that we have this bifurcated application process. And I looked at and I said, oh my gosh, this is just so purely a political compromise. You know, moaned and groaned and the politicians say, isn't it great?
[00:15:47] So, you know, there's some of that. And well, there's certainly blood diamonds already done is better than perfect in some respects.
[00:15:53] So, I mean, I think we I'm glad we have something. But yes. And I think that do you see this is you know, to the extent that you've seen this kind of play out in different states and, you know, when this grand experiment of every state kind of passing their own legislation and developing their own regulatory systems and markets and really economies, micro economies around cannabis, compare New Jersey with what you've seen with some of the other states.
[00:16:15] And, you know, where does it stand on some of these scales? What it's what is it doing? Well, what is it not doing too well? Give us some context relative to that.
[00:16:22] Sure. And I think that, you know, I like I said, Don is better than perfect. You know, I work closely with you, O'Beirne, who's the president of the CIA? And he said to me again and again and again, as we were working on this policy, he said, we can't make the perfect the enemy of the good. So that really is is a guiding principle throughout all of this. So what New Jersey has needed really is better. Just just sophistication, a level of sophistication that has not existed to date. And we are getting there. So we're bringing on more operators. We're also seeing a change, a shift in the market. For the first time, we've had applications to to distribute permits other than vertically integrated permits. So I think your listeners are probably familiar with vertical integration. Right, that you have the cultivation, processing and retailing all under the same license. So now for the first time, we're going into more of a wholesale market. We're going to be going in a direction that should allow for a more robust wholesaling and also a greater diversity of products. So this last round, you could apply for a cultivation only license or a dispensary only license as well as the vertically integrated licenses. And there were one hundred and ninety eight applications that were submitted to the Department of Health, and the large majority of those were for standalone dispensaries.
[00:17:34] And then the remaining were split up fairly evenly between the vertically integrated and then the standalone cultivators. So that will really shift the development of the market. Right. And we'll start to see processed products more than we have in New Jersey. Right. Because there will be more competition. There's a there's a greater demand for those sort of things. And they haven't existed in New Jersey. We'll also see the development of actual testing regulations while more robust testing regulations. Right now, all of the cannabis is tested through one state lab in New Jersey. And I'm sure your listeners are following what has happened in California as those testing regulations, you know, were shored up that really had a major impact on a lot of the operators. So people who are already operating to GMP standards or you have some sense of, you know, the FDA maybe really breathing down our backs at some point won't be disrupted by the implementation of more robust regulations round around testing. So I think we're on the cusp of seeing a really, really great changes for patients more access, better products and lower prices.
[00:18:38] And so let's talk about I mean, you mentioned the FDA here. So let's talk a little bit about some of the national dynamics that are playing out.
[00:18:43] How I guess how do you see a from a state level kind of policy and industry development point of view? How is this kind of uncertainty of what's happening at the federal level with both kind of the classification as well as the regulation of cannabis products? How are these things impacting the development of the industry either in terms of driving in different directions or holding it back in different ways? I mean, what's what's your what have you observed in terms of how people are treating this? And what do you see as being the big issues nationally or from a federal point of view that are that are playing out for us?
[00:19:18] Sure. So the. There was an audible gasp when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole memo. Right. Which had provided some protection for cannabis businesses that were operating a court in compliance with state laws and a revoked that. Well, we have a new attorney general now, thankfully, and the House has the Blumenauer McClintock Norton amendment. I don't know exactly when that was. But the Senate will vote on it after the August summer recess. And that basically puts those protections back in place for the legal cannabis industry. State by state to protect from from DOJ action. So so that is necessary.
[00:19:55] And I do believe that that's a fairly easy get and then we'll see that soon. This Congress has been described as the most marijuana friendly Congress in history. So I'm optimistic. I'm quite optimistic. And we have seen when you asked what are the big issues? Banking is a huge one. That's where we will see the first changes on a federal level. In addition to the Blumenauer situation with the protection of DOJ action. But we'll see. I believe that the Safe Banking Act has some traction and there is buy in, you know, from both the House and the Senate. There was a public hearing. The Senate on July 20 3rd, and Senator Kirk Cory Gardner from Colorado said he was confident of having enough support in the Senate for that. So what would happen if the Safe Banking Act were to be passed? It would protect banks and insurers that serve the industry. Right, but then would also protect the US stock exchanges. So there would be the opportunity to let loose cannabis companies. Yeah. Which is you know, that's huge in that, of course, you know, it's where it's a big business plus. But opening up the banking restrictions around this also is friendly towards some of the smaller businesses. Right. Who don't have access to capital right now, who can't obtain a business loan to try to start there. You know, mom and pop shop or whatever it is on the pop charts. So it will be comprehensively good for the industry. But it does hammer home the importance of making sure that there are some social equity provisions in the legislation that's developed both on the state level and in the national level.
[00:21:23] And so there are other initiatives. You know, we have heard of Senator Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act. Right.
[00:21:30] And that type of legislation really is saying, you know, let's let's remember here the origins of this prohibition and how many how the harms of prohibition have been disproportionate, impactful on certain communities. And that is really central to the conversation in New Jersey, but also needs to be carried through at the federal level.
[00:21:50] And how and from the FDA point of view. So that's the banking side. I mean, where are we in terms of the regulatory side? I mean, I know that, you know, right right now it's still Class 1 if this thing gets reclassified. Or were the potential options for the FDA and how does that impact how you see the industry developing?
[00:22:06] Sure. So in 1961, I guess it was that there's the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that was really the driving force for that was the United States to get that in place. And that really impacts international law as cannabis is considered. So in that in that context, cannabis is on the strictest of the control schedules. It's a schedule one substance. And, you know, with the exception of if you made the dialects and you are GW Pharmaceuticals and there is that little exception. But and so that the FDA has had some involvement with that, specifically with the dialects. We do hope that there will be some modification of that single convention that will, you know, whether it will d schedule or reschedule or there'll be some sort of interest, say modification. You know, we would hope to see some movement here. And although, you know, I'm talking internationally at this point, but I do believe really dialogues very specifically with the FDA and with our federal law. So so it is important now FDA we're gonna see first become more heavily involved in regulating CBD. So, you know, the federal hemp bill, the farm bill was passed with the allowance now to be able to legally grow industrial hemp, which had less than point three percent THC.
[00:23:18] And Mitch McConnell, Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, where hemp grows wild and free, you know, as was a big driver behind us. Now, the FDA has not yet developed the regulations for the regulation of CBD. And there's a bit of a political game there, too. Right. So these you can see how you're getting those regulations in place would really allow the industry to flourish. That's compliant, robust operators to really flourish. But that can sort of be held hostage for or can be used as a political bargaining tool for for other things to happen if it needs to be. But it was the FDA. There's also the DEA. Right. So the DEA, I believe it something like 80 percent or more of their activity is focused on cannabis, this focus of marijuana.
[00:24:01] So if we legalize the agency, we can't you know, I mean, I don't think they have a really motivating factor. It's not gonna any percent of their budget.
[00:24:11] Right. So they're gonna have to shift gears, you know, pretty dramatically. And we'll see where that goes. I mean, we also have Canada right now has legalized to the north of us. Mexico is their Senate. We'll be formalizing things, we believe, this fall. So, you know, even my 7 year old understands North America. We're right. And so I see some things, you know, may be happening in the international context because of those because of those developments. But, yeah, there's government agencies, FDA, DEA. Right. All of these things. There's legislators, there's executive leadership, you know, at the presidential level. And there is, of course, Supreme Court. Do you know that could get involved. So it's a lot of moving pieces and a lot of influential parts.
[00:24:54] I wouldn't even talk about the lobbyists in places like pharma and alcohol and tobacco.
[00:24:59] I think I keep running into that one. I mean, the kind of the general perception is that pharma is sitting on the sidelines or waiting on the sidelines to jump into this as soon as soon as the legal stuff kind of plays out. Is that. I mean, given given New Jersey here is one of one of the bigger pharmaceutical industry hotbeds. What do you what's your kind of take on how pharmaceuticals are are positioning themselves and what do you think they're going to do and when are they going to do it?
[00:25:23] Sure, sure. Well, that's a billion dollar question.
[00:25:29] The on the state level, I mentioned that I really have tremendous respect for the regulators in the Department of Health and conversations that I've had with them are, you know, we're sitting here, we're saying, my goodness, we have the pharmaceutical infrastructure that we have in this state. It's been called the medicine chest of the country and the highly capitalized health care system and intellectual capital that we have here in academia or scientists or researchers. We should be really involved in cannabis and cannabis research. So there are a number of initiatives. The Department of Health, in conjunction with Rutgers University, will on October 7th be hosting what I know to be the only cannabis conference that sponsored by a government agency and in a state, a state university that is focused on the science, medicine and research related to cannabis in the bill that was passed on July 2nd. There's a new type of license, the clinical registrant license that encourages or requires rather partnership between an industry operator and an academic medical center in New Jersey. So that would be, you know, really trying to encourage some of this research. So that's what I see happening on the New Jersey level. But from an industry perspective or from a business perspective, as the pharmaceutical industry, I wouldn't say that they are sitting on the sidelines. But I would say they're setting up shop in Canada. Johnson and Johnson looking at you and doing, you know, are indeed and getting things in place for Israel. Right. And they're getting these things in place. And then they are going to use their lobbies to make sure that the laws are in line at the exact right time for that to make their business moves.
[00:26:56] So it's interesting kind of dynamic between the policy and the industry, you know, kind of figuring out how to position themselves to get this thing right. And then obviously the legislation to kind of make it happen. Yeah. This has been great. We're gonna hit a time here. This isn't. Anything in terms of getting more information. If people want to contact you, want to find more, learn more about NJ, CIA, what's the best way to get that information and get a hold of you?
[00:27:18] Sure. Yeah. The only thing I don't feel like we got to talk about too much. I really thought of some of the social justice or social equity provision and that I'm happy to take off line. I really am interested in talking to people about that so I can be reached at op ed. Well, first of all, for more information on NJCIA, please go to www.NewJerseyCIA.org and my email address that I can be reached at is email@example.com. So if you want to connect with me there, I'm happy to figure out ways to collaborate and maybe help to advance your business goals or to advocate generally for the best context for legal access to cannabis in New Jersey and beyond.
[00:28:00] Excellent. I'll make sure that those links and email on the show notes here. This has been a pleasure. We can schedule another episode to keep going on this because there's more we can do on everything we've talked about. But this is really helpful. It was a pleasure. I think really valuable for everyone listening. I appreciate the time.
[00:28:15] You've been listening to Thinking Outside the Bud with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt to find a full list of podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. Visit the Web site at thinkingoutsidethebud.com. And don't forget to sign up for the free newsletter at thinkingoutsidethebud.com/newsletter.