Building a bridge from legacy to legal cannabis market

Six years after the legal adult-use cannabis market opened in California, most consumers continue to buy their goods underground. Politico reported in October that sales on the illicit, or legacy, market in California totaled approximately $8 billion–twice the amount from the legal market. To allow the legal market to thrive in New Jersey, prominent cannabis attorney Scheril Murray Powell said that it’s “essential that legacy operators are welcomed into the legal market so that we can build a robust cannabis industry and avoid the disastrous dual market system seen in other states.”

Powell is chief operating officer of the nonprofit JUSTÜS Foundation, which aims to facilitate the entry of legacy operators into the legal cannabis market. The organization was founded in October 2021 by Steve DeAngelo, an industry pioneer and founder of the Last Prisoner Project, in response to two trends: the exclusion of legacy cannabis operators from the legal industry and the persistence of a dual legacy-legal market following legalization.

To build a bridge from the legacy to legal market, she said that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission should proactively try to engage legacy operators, defined by her organization and the Unified Legacy Operators Counsel as “someone who was actively commercializing cannabis for at least five years during cannabis prohibition,” and initiate policies regarding amnesty and priority.

“In order to build a robust market, you need to have amnesty for those who created the blueprint for commercializing cannabis, meaning when they’re forthcoming with their experience, they will not be penalized by their disclosure. Then you’ll have more people willing to contribute and participate in the legal cannabis industry,” she said.

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