As of March 31, 2021, cannabis became legal in New York City.
It’s still unclear when legal sales of cannabis will begin in America’s biggest market.
“We don’t know…and not just on the timeline,” Curaleaf exec Patrik Jonsson told Insider.
Cannabis has been legal in New York City since the end of March, but there’s still no way to legally purchase it.
What is expected to be America’s largest cannabis market is still stuck in limbo as New York legislators hammer out the details.
When will consumers be able to walk into a store and buy cannabis?
“We don’t know, we don’t know,” Patrik Jonsson, northeast regional president at Curaleaf, told Insider. “And not just on the timeline, but also what we’re going to be allowed to do,” he said.
Curaleaf is among the top cannabis MSOs, or multi-state operators, in the United States, according to The Motley Fool. It has over 100 dispensaries in 23 states, including New York State where it operates several medical dispensaries.
Jonsson is responsible for overseeing Curaleaf’s business in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. He said working on New York City right now is “kind of a moving target,” because it’s impossible to plan for the future without knowing what the regulations will be.
“We’re kind of hedging our bets on how big, how small, how quick,” Jonsson said. “‘Cause none of that is set in stone. We don’t know if we’re allowed to be in one location. Are we allowed two locations? Can it be three locations?”
Cannabis laws vary dramatically from state to state, and New York is in a unique position where two of the surrounding states (New Jersey and Connecticut) are concurrently writing their own regulation on adult cannabis use.
In New York, for instance, only existing medical cannabis producers – like Curaleaf – will be able to both cultivate and sell cannabis. New entrants to the recreational market will have to choose to either cultivate or sell, not both.
But without knowing what type of retail stores will be allowed, how many will be allowed, and how they’ll operate – to say nothing of not knowing when they’ll be able to open for business – potential retailers are being more careful before diving in.
“Obviously the prices are pretty steep in a place like Manhattan,” Jonsson said. “So, we’re looking for locations, but we’re also going to be strategic on how do we hold that location without knowing for sure if it’s a location we’re actually going to be able to use. That’s a game that all the current operators are looking at.”
Manhattan retail was hit particularly hard during the height of the COVID pandemic, with tourism and commuters simultaneously disappearing from major sections of midtown and downtown Manhattan. Chains like Starbucks closed dozens of stores, many small businesses shuttered for good, and some new entrants are using that as an opportunity to get a foothold in New York City.
It’s unclear if cannabis dispensaries will be able to take advantage of the current glut of open Manhattan retail space.
“We will continue to work expeditiously to bring this new industry to life safely,” Gough said.
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Alcanna is a Canadian liquor retailer with 171 locations throughout the country. The company also owns a majority 63% stake in Nova Cannabis, a publicly traded company that runs 62 cannabis retail locations across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Under the terms of the merger, for every one share of Alcanna, shareholders will receive 10.69 shares of Sundial. That represents a share price of $9.12 for Alcanna, which is a 39% premium to the 10-day volume-weighted average price of the company. The merger is still subject to approval by shareholders of both companies.
The deal has so far been viewed as favorable among investors, as shares of both Sundial and Alcanna moved higher in Friday’s trading session. Typically only the company being acquired sees a higher stock price, while investors sell stock of the acquirer due to integration and strategic rationale concerns.
According to Sundial, the deal will help improve its cash flow profile via Alcanna’s mature liquor business, which generated $16.4 million in cash flow over the past year.
“Alcanna’s value-focused model in liquor retailing has created market stability and we believe that the replication of this playbook in cannabis has strong potential to drive a similar result,” Sundial CEO Zach George said. Sundial also expects to realize an additional $15 million in EBITDA through retail operation synergies and other strategic initiatives.
Sundial grows, produces, and distributes various cannabis products to a network of dispensaries throughout Canada. The company says combined with Nova’s retail footprint, Sundial will reach more than 170 cannabis retail locations in Canada, making it a retail market leader.
Insider tried to question Hochul about it during a brief press conference she held on Wednesday, and asked the governor’s office after she ended the gaggle at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan’s Battery Park.
When asked when New Yorkers can plan on being able to go to a dispensary and buy pot legally, a Hochul official explained how the governor has worked with state lawmakers to “move swiftly” and “work expeditiously” on full legalization, but did not provide even a tentative timeframe for when that would happen.
“The Governor worked with her partners in the Legislature to move swiftly to make key appointments to the Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board, which was fully constituted on September 22,” Jason Gough, Hochul’s deputy communications director for economic development, told Insider in an email.
“Just yesterday, the Board and OCM built on that momentum with the appointment of agency leadership, including a Chief Equity Officer who will ensure the new industry is focused on economic and social justice from the start, and the expansion of the medical cannabis program to make it more accessible to New Yorkers who will benefit,” Gough, a former on-air meteorologist for Albany’s NBC affiliate, continued. “We will continue to work expeditiously to bring this new industry to life safely.”
While consuming cannabis products is now legal in New York, the process to create regulations for dispensaries and “consumption sites” was delayed by months under Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
I don’t think I could roll a joint if my life depended on it, and the last time I smoked marijuana was years ago when I split a joint among friends in Amsterdam.
But I’ve always been up for a new experience – whether that was trying cannabis with my high-school friends (and subsequently making myself sick) or purchasing a tin of gummies when marijuana was legalized where I live in Phoenix at the end of last year.
To give you an idea of my marijuana use, that tin of gummies lasted more than six months in my cabinet.
Despite my general naivete, when I heard about Cloth & Flame‘s new cannabis dinners, I was intrigued. A great meal and an Instagram-worthy tablescape go a long way with me, so I was game.
Cloth & Flame has facilitated high-end events for clients including Bentley, Chanel, and Google. I had high expectations – especially for an event that retails at $195 per person – but this meal exceeded them.
My boyfriend and I traveled about two hours north of my home to the mystical red-rock spiritual wonderland of Sedona and checked into a hotel. After a short drive in a charter bus, my fellow event goers and I were in a mountain-surrounded patch of forest by a stone-lined creek.
The evening started with a welcome mocktail, a cruise around the merch table, time to listen to a band performance – and a joint by the “canna-cabin.”
Attendees were offered a joint donated by Copperstate Farms, with three options for strength. My boyfriend – who is marijuana-shy and tried to get out of this adventure multiple times – opted for the lightest option with me.
Before dinner, guests were given time to enjoy the sunset, smoke, lounge in a hammock, and, in my case, make a lot of Instagram stories.
The menu was a multicourse meal featuring fried chicken oysters on a mesquite waffle, poached pears on a bed of feta cheese, achiote-crusted pork, and brown-butter churros. To say the food was incredible would be an understatement.
The entire meal contained about 12 micrograms of THC – the primary component of cannabis that gets you high – and about six micrograms of CBD. Even as someone who wasn’t taking more than 5 micrograms of THC gummies a night, I knew this wasn’t a lot.
Before each course, our server asked if we wanted a “dosed” or “non-dosed” dish. I opted for dosed every time. My boyfriend, who did indulge in a couple puffs of our joint, did the opposite.
The night ended with craft seasonal lattes by the fire, stargazing, sound healing, and lounging around the various seating areas set up around the venue.
I can’t say I’ve been converted into a weed smoker – most of my high didn’t kick in until I was back in my hotel room – but I did appreciate the slow-paced high, dreamy atmosphere, incredible scenery, and, of course, the food.
Cloth & Flame and Copperstate Farms donated a portion of the proceeds from the event to the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that focuses on helping those incarcerated for cannabis-related charges, a sobering reminder of how the drug hasn’t always been an accepted pastime.
This helped me decide to opt for merch, which also benefited the cause.
Between all the good vibes, activities, and a light marijuana buzz, I hardly even missed my usual glass of wine.
“The fact that everyone is just so consumed by this idea that only rec cannabis matters, I think, is a fallacy,” Martin said in a recent interview. Aurora’s medical-cannabis business is a bright spot for the company. Medical sales increased 9% in the most recent quarter, while the company’s recreational sales tumbled 45%.
In other news, Insider’s cannabis team was at the Business of Cannabis conference in New York this week, where Jeremy moderated a panel on how the New York market would shape out as the industry begins to ramp up. We’ll be at a few others in the coming months, so feel free to say hello if you see us around.
The founder of Rootz Research told Insider he started the company with three Wharton professors. One of the professors told Insider the founder, Eric Spitz, had “grossly misrepresented” his role. The cannabis industry has its share of disingenuous founders and startup failures. Can Rootz chart a different path?
The top 3 VCs in the psychedelics space told Insider they’d seen hundreds of pitches from startups since early 2020. So we asked them two main questions: What makes a company stands out? What’s an automatic red flag?
Sa’ad Shah, managing partner at the Noetic Fund, told Insider in a recent interview that he’s seen 374 different pitches from startups in the industry and that there are two major red flags he sees among companies in the space, which signal to him that he shouldn’t invest.
Aurora Cannabis is doubling down on its medical business, CEO Miguel Martin told Insider. Aurora’s medical-cannabis business is a bright spot for the company. Medical sales increased 9% in the most recent quarter, while the company’s recreational sales tumbled 45%.
US cannabis company MariMedsaid on Monday that former Neptune Wellness executive Steve West would be joining the company as vice president of investor relations.
Cannabis tech company Flowhubannounced on Wednesday that former Uber general manager Leandre Johns would be joining as chief operating officer.
Cannabis website Leaflysaid on Tuesday that finance and tech veteran Suresh Krishnaswamy would be joining the company as its new chief financial officer.
California-based cannabis company Glass House Brandsannounced on Wednesday that it had appointed finance and accounting veteran Mark Vendetti as its new chief financial officer.
Psychedelics company Delix Therapeutics said on Monday that it had raised $70 million in a Series A round led by ARTIS Ventures, RA Capital Management, and OMX Ventures.
US cannabis company Jushi Holdingsannounced on Wednesday that it would be acquiring Nevada-based cannabis dispensary The Apothecarium.
Parallel, Beau Wrigley’s cannabis company, is no longer going public after the deal with Ceres Acquisition Corp, a SPAC, fell apart.
Former basketball star Chris Webber and his business partner Lavetta Willis are building out a $50 million cannabis facility in Detroit, reports The Detroit News.
The House Judiciary Committee passed The MORE Act, a bill that would federally decriminalize cannabis, on Thursday by a vote of 26-15, mostly along party lines.
US cannabis company Ascend Wellness Holdingssaid on Monday that it had reached its $1 million milestone in contributions to the Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit focused on advocacy for individuals with cannabis convictions.
Research and data
A new study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that more cannabis stores led to more legal sales – without increasing the number of new users. “That’s about the best policymakers could have hoped for,” the study’s author, Brock University professor Michael Armstrong told Insider.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that with legalization, Hispanic and White individuals increased their marijuana usage while Black individuals did not.
A new study from New Brunswick’s Research and Productivity Council found that illicit cannabis is more likely to contain contaminants like microbes and pesticides, and have inaccurate label claims when compared to legally purchased cannabis.
Cannabis-related arrests in the US saw a steep drop in 2020, according to new data from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which showed that arrest rates dropped 36% in 2020 compared to 2019. Read more at NORML.
As more Americans choose to leave their current jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the question remains: where are they going? One answer is the booming legal marijuana industry.
The cannabis industry has become a place of refuge for frustrated and under-appreciated retail workers who left their jobs, the Washington Post reported. Despite unemployment and a temporary economic recession in 2020 fueled by the pandemic, resulting in one of the worst years for US economic growth in 80 years, employment in the industry grew by 32%. The industry added over 77,000 jobs across the sector, according to a 2021 Leafly Jobs report. There are now 321,000 American working in the legal cannabis industry, more than those who are EMTs and paramedics, aircraft pilots, or electrical engineers, the report said.
“I am so much happier,” a cannabis dispensary employee Jason Zvokel told The Washington Post. “For the first time in years, I’m not miserable when I come home from work.”
Zvokel left his job as a Walgreens pharmacist, which he held for over twenty years, according to the Post, taking on a job at a dispensary where his pay is 5% lower, but hours and work expectations are more manageable. Between administering dozens of coronavirus vaccines daily, the pressures of meeting high sales and prescription goals, and the lack of overtime pay or raises, Zvokel felt inclined to quit.
“People were quitting left and right and I was being asked to do a lot more than I physically could,” Zvokel added.
Similar stresses are echoed throughout different industries, like retail, food service, and healthcare – fueling the Great Resignation, where US workers are quitting their jobs in droves for better pay, work-life balance, and feeling valued at work. Almost 70% of workers in the US considered changing their careers for more job flexibility, even at the expense of lower pay. Some underqualified workers are outright “ghosting” their employers without notice, leading to a sharp decline in worker retention, especially in the restaurant industry.
Mario Porter, the co-owner of a Michigan-based dispensary, Hempire Collective, told The Washington Post he was able to expand his dispensary staff in 2021. He received hundreds of applications, many of which came from retail workers who left their jobs during the pandemic.
Like jobs in the retail sector, most entry-level jobs in the cannabis industry are minimum wage, but there are more opportunities to move up quickly, the Post reported. Lucrative managerial and executive jobs in the industry can rake in 6-figure salaries.
“Without proper structures and safeguards in place at the outset, cannabis could end up looking like many other U.S. industries,” according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. These industries are dominated by “strictly profit-maximizing firms” that treat find ways to keep wages low and undermine worker power, the report continued.
Though medical marijuana is now legal in 37 states, and 18 states and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana for all adults, the substance is still prohibited on the federal level.
In some respects, the fight over how to legalize cannabis is a microcosm of larger social debates, pitting social justice activists against more free-market-oriented folks.
Take the debate this week over the SAFE Banking Act.
The cannabis banking bill passed the House for the fifth time last night. This go-around, language from the bill – which would open up the banking system to cannabis companies and allow consumers to pay with credit cards – was shoehorned into the National Defense Authorization Act.
The NDAA usually passes the Senate without much fanfare. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Ron Wyden, and Sen. Cory Booker have their own more comprehensive cannabis bill, The Cannabis Opportunity and Administration Act. Booker has said that he opposes adding cannabis banking protections to the Senate’s version of the NDAA ahead of broader criminal justice reforms.
It remains to be seen whether SAFE will be included in the Senate’s version of the NDAA. Many cannabis activists say that the SAFE Act would only help banks and large cannabis companies make more money in the industry. They’d rather see full-scale legalization or at least record expungement and other criminal and social justice measures passed first.
But supporters of the SAFE Act say it’s a necessary tool to help protect and grow small businesses since many social equity license holders are unable to get loans or open lines of credit to start their businesses, and that dealing in all cash is a safety risk.
Investors are pushing Civilized founders Derek and Terri Riedle out of the company, according to a memo circulated among investors on Monday and obtained by Insider. The investors say the founders, Derek and Terri Riedle, saddled the company with debt.
A new accelerator program is targeting early-stage ancillary startups focused on psychedelics, in the latest sign that psychedelics are entering the mainstream and that funding dollars are trailing closely behind.
The US House of Representatives has passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, or SAFE Banking Act, yet again.
Lawmakers tucked the cannabis banking bill into the National Defense Authorization Act that passed lower chamber on Thursday. It’s not clear whether the Senate will include cannabis reforms in its version of the defense package once the upper chamber takes it up.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced two more appointees – Reuben R. McDaniel, III and Jessica Garcia – to the board of the Office of Cannabis Management, the regulatory body responsible for building out the adult-use cannabis industry in the state.
Deals, launches, and IPOs
Cannabis tech company Dispensesaid on Tuesday that it had raised a $2 million seed round led by NextView Ventures and Poseidon Asset Management.
Michigan-based cannabis company SKYMINTsaid on Tuesday that it raised $78 million and acquired 3Fifteen Cannabis. Investors in the round include Tropics LP, an affiliate of Sundial Growers’ JV SunStream Bancorp Inc., and Merida Capital Holdings.
Christine De La Rosa, the CEO of The People’s Ecosystem, is raising a $50 million fund to invest in BIPOC and women-led cannabis businesses.
Psychedelics company Delic Holdings Corpsaid on Monday it would acquire Ketamine Wellness Centers Inc, increasing its footprint to 12 clinic locations across the US, in a $5 million cash-and-stock deal.
Crain Communicationsis acquiring cannabis financial media site Green Market Report. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the SAFE Banking Act, a cannabis banking bill, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It’s not clear whether the Senate will include cannabis reforms in its version of the defense package once the upper chamber takes it up.
Italy is expected to hold a referendum on legalizing cannabis early next year after organizers gathered the 500,000 signatures within a week, reports Reuters.
Research and data
A new report from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute found that unionized cannabis workers could make $8,690 more per year than non-unionized peers.
Psychedelics company Atai Life Sciencessaid on Tuesday that its platform company DemeRx has started its early-stage clinical trials of ibogaine to treat opioid use disorder.
Cannabis data firm BDSAsays in a report that cannabis sales will hit $31 billion this year, a 41% increase over last year. By 2026, BDSA expects cannabis sales to exceed $62 billion.
MedMenreported its Q4 and FY21 results on Thursday. The company reported $42 million in revenue and a net loss of $46 million in Q4. For the full year, the company reported $145 million in revenue and a net loss of $157.6 million.
The announcement is the latest volley in Amazon’s ongoing efforts to spur federal cannabis legalization in the United States, following an announcement back in June that it would no longer pre-screen employees for cannabis use.
So, why is Amazon so interested in legalizing weed in the US?
At least part of the answer has to do with the Amazon warehouses, known as fulfillment centers, that employ the vast majority of Amazon’s hourly workforce.
Amazon is running out of workers to hire
In its announcement on Tuesday, Amazon senior VP of human resources Beth Galetti directly attributed the company’s interest in cannabis legalization to hiring: “Eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool,” she said.
Hourly employees had a turnover rate of about 150% every year, data reviewed by The Times indicated.
Of the over 350,000 workers Amazon hired between July and October 2020, many stayed with the company “just days or weeks,” the report said.
Relaxing marijuana testing is just one way Amazon has attempted to appeal to potential workers – and other corporations could soon follow suit.
“The fact that Amazon, one of the world’s leading companies, is moving forward with this stance will certainly put pressure on all major employers who are taking a slower approach,” J. Smoke Wallin, CEO of hemp manufacturing company Vertical Wellness, told Insider.
Appealing to marijuana users could lead to a wider pool of job applicants. Marijuana use among US workers increased by 16% between 2014 and 2019, according to a study by Quest Diagnostics.
Legal marijuana use has risen as more states and municipalities decriminalize cannabis use. Marijuana sales skyrocketed in 2020, increasing 46% year-over-year to a record $17.5 billion.
Though the tight labor market could explain why Amazon is currently fighting for marijuana legalization, many other corporations have relaxed drug testing due to shifts in public opinion around weed, said Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the NORML Foundation. NORML is a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about marijuana policy.
Drug screening has been declining in popularity for since the late 1990s, Armentano said. Off-the-job marijuana use has not led to increased workplace injuries, according to a 2020 report in the peer-reviewed journal Substance Use & Misuse.
“It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat,” Armentano said in a statement.
“Given our previous support for legalizing cannabis at the federal level, as well as expunging certain criminal records and investing in impacted businesses and communities, Amazon recently announced our support for, and began actively lobbying on, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act),” the company said. “We are also pleased to endorse the recently introduced Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.”
Both bills aim to remove cannabis from the federal list of “Schedule 1” drugs, which includes LSD and heroin, and to enable some level of national legalization.
Amazon first announced support for federal cannabis legalization back in June.
At the same time, Amazon consumer CEO Dave Clark said the company would no longer screen potential employees for cannabis use as a condition of hiring.
“In the past, like many employers, we’ve disqualified people from working at Amazon if they tested positive for marijuana use,” Clark said. “However, given where state laws are moving across the US, we’ve changed course.”
Notably, Amazon said on Tuesday that part of the reason it’s pushing for legalization is to make hiring a bit easier.
“We’ve found that eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool,” Amazon senior VP of human resources Beth Galetti said.
Amazon has already spent at least $5 million on lobbying efforts, according to records reviewed by Insider, alongside over 160 other groups that lobbied the government in favor of legal cannabis in the second quarter of 2021.
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Last month, I spoke to Roc Nation rapper Jim Jones and celebrity jeweler and entrepreneur Alex Todd about the trajectory of Saucey Farms and Extracts, the cannabis brand they co-founded in 2019.
The Zoom video call took place two weeks after Jones and Dipset faced The Lox in a Verzuz battle at Madison Square Garden. Our call was rescheduled in the aftermath of the event after Jones caught COVID-19, which he was on the mend from when we spoke.
Jones joined toward the end of the 30 minute call with a lit blunt in hand. Todd related that he hadn’t heard from Jones in days, and Jones replied that no one had heard from him as he recovered.
‘A pretty crazy two years’
Launched in June 2019, Saucey Farms and Extracts traversed “a pretty crazy two years, considering the pandemic,” Todd said at the start of the call. “We got a good six to eight months in before all the craziness really started.”
The brand’s launch in 2019 coincided with a subsidiary line of cannabis products called CAPO, named after Jones’ Dipset moniker. Todd said that Saucey’s inaugural product, a pre-rolled blunt line from Jones called CAPO Blunt (Triple F’n OG), has remained one of the brand’s top-selling items among its selection of other pre-rolls, vape cartridges, and cannabis flowers.
After starting out in California dispensaries, Saucey expanded into Oregon and has a launch imminent in Michigan. The brand has scaled its operation into two facilities, located in Oregon and California and staffed by growing teams of cultivators and experts in cannabinoid research.
Through most of the pandemic, and until recent months, Saucey had been hovering around a “hundred dispensary mark, and then hitting a little bit of a brick wall,” Todd said, in reference to the count of stores that sold its products.
“We’re a fairly small company compared to some of the MSOs (multi-state operators) out there and some of the people that we’re competing against,” he continued. “It’s just so far you can go on your own before you’re going to need some help on the distribution side.”
Partnering with ‘the big, big homie’
Help came in the form of a partnership with the man Jones referred to in our call as “the big, big homie” – his Roc Nation label boss, Jay-Z.
“Jay is a smart individual. I mean, whenever he steps into something, we all know its going to be at the top tier of what can be done, as far as the power of his structure,” Jones said. “He’s created like an Amazon inside of this marijuana business, especially for people like ourselves, who’ve come up under the culture, now pushing marijuana as a business. He knows where to get in when it comes to business. As opposed to him just coming in with his own marijuana brand and just getting into dispensaries and make it a big thing, he actually made it a platform for other people to come eat with him, and help other people off the platform to enter the marijuana business so that it can be lucrative.”
Todd described the advantage of Saucey’s impending participation in The Parent Company’s “amazing direct-to-consumer outlet,” Caliva, noting that the company will soon distribute the entirety of Saucey’s product line through an app that delivers direct to California-based consumers.
He went on to discuss the potential impact of Jay-Z’s role in the cannabis space more broadly.
“I’m happy to have him in the space. I know with that happening that a lot of good on the reform side is going to happen,” Todd said. “A lot of good stuff on getting people into the space that maybe weren’t able to be there involved.”
As The Parent Company’s chief visionary officer, Jay-Z leads a social equity ventures initiative that has given out $10 million to social equity brands in the cannabis industry. Last month, The Parent Company made history when it hired former Clorox executive Troy Datcher as its CEO, marking the first time that Black CEO has been tapped to lead a major, public cannabis organization in the US.
‘An East Coast brand’ set for East Coast expansion
At the start of the call, Todd said of Saucey that its “moniker has always been like ‘An East Coast brand that had no choice but to take its talents out to the West Coast,’ because it wasn’t legal here.”
The New York-based cannabis brand naturally has its eye on expansion into the East Coast following the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey last year and New York in March. The topic resulted in the following exchange, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.