The legalization of marijuana would take money out of the pockets of drug dealers and into the wallets of small business owners, according to a trade association for the cannabis industry.

Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, said with Gov.-elect Phil Murphy having campaigned on legalizing marijuana, coming through on that promise would be a boon for the cannabis industry and the state's economy.

Rudder said because there is already infrastructure in place for the cannabis industry for medical marijuana, the legalization of marijuana will cause a "dramatic boost to our existing businesses in New Jersey."  He said that can include law firms, accounting firms, security firms and others expanding and focusing on the potential issues associated with legalization.

Added security can be needed because some banks are not willing to work with marijuana-related businesses because marijuana is still considered contraband by the federal government. Not being able to use banks means that companies will have lots of cash on hand.

If legalization comes to pass, Rudder said it will mean a "homegrown expansion of people that are in related businesses." That would include companies that make the lights and hydroponics for growing the marijuana, food processing companies, testing facilities, new retail stores, and companies making new cannabis products.

New Jersey has had a medical marijuana program since Gov. Jon Corzine signed it into law in 2010. But the first marijuana dispensary didn't open until October 2012. Since then more than 14,800 patients have been served by the state's five dispensaries, or alternative treatment centers, in Montclair, Egg Harbor Township, Woodbridge, Cranbury and Bellmawr. A sixth has received preliminary approval in Secaucus.

Cannabis connoisseur

Inc.com says the cannabis industry is a $50 billion entity now with some of the hottest companies showing how diverse the businesses can be. That includes a company that provides cannabis tours, medicinal chocolate, and specialized vapes for marijuana.

Entrepreneur.com compiled a list of businesses that could take advantage of the legalization of marijuana. That list includes starting cannabis-friendly bed-and-breakfasts, painting classes that are pot friendly, and cannabis florists.

Much like there is a market for people to buy a $300 bottle of beer, Rudder said there can be a high-end marijuana industry.

"The cannabis connoisseur is not too different than you would find in the wine, beer or scotch world," he said. "There are different types of strains, different types of brands, there are different types of methods for ingestion."

While most people think of marijuana use strictly through smoke inhalation, Rudder said the legalization of marijuana would bring a flood of new products to the market. He said producers are now making "thousands" of different products including food, drinks, and specialty desserts.

"People are looking at this," he said. "People that are enthusiastic about cannabis are just as interested as somebody that is a wine aficionado."

Organic vs. black market

In addition to the price of marijuana products, Rudder said the state will benefit from the taxes linked to the industry, but said he hoped the market would determine the price.

"The strategy today is to keep the taxes a little low because part of the overall objective is to dry the black market," he said. "We're not quite sure what the tax structure will look like, but what we want to make sure is that cannabis that is sold in stores is less expensive and dramatically higher quality than you would find out on the street."

He said marijuana products sold in in stores would not have pesticides, mold or bacteria if they can be regulated by the state.

The New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association released a statement saying it is "ready to work with other stakeholders to shepherd responsible business practices and opportunities.

"Our goal is to have our members represent the most respected, business-focused and compliance-driven calls of the licensed, marijuana-retailer businesses," association president Juan Carlos Negrin said.

Concerns about public safety and other issues are all part of what Rudder said needs to be a "thoughtful process" if legalization becomes a reality.

"We're going to create a brand new industry. The fact of the matter is there are people that are concerned about this. We want to make sure we're addressing their concerns," he said. "A big part of this is not just the legislation in and of itself, it's the education."

That education, he said, will include legislators, community members, school districts, and law enforcement because "we want to make certain that there's as much cross-collaboration and information and transparency as possible." If done right, he said the steps taken after legalization will "allow an industry to thrive and create the tens of thousands of jobs that people are counting on."

While there are no assurances that a Murphy administration will be successful in fulfilling his promise of legalizing marijuana, Rudder said it is an "exciting" time in hopes that the efforts pay off.

"There's a lot of very responsible folks out there already getting cannabis on the black market. They don't want to be getting cannabis on the black market," he said. "We don't expect necessarily that the population of cannabis consumers will increase, as much as just drying up the black market and putting money in the hands of small business owners instead of drug dealers."

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association announced a new leader after Murphy announced on the same day that the organization's founder, Metuchen Mayor Pete Cammarano, would serve as his chief of staff. Cammarano will be replaced in the organization by attorney Hugh O'Beirne.

"From a political perspective, New Jersey will soon be well-positioned to finally enact sensible legislation and regulations that expand our current medical marijuana program and legalize adult-use cannabis, laying the foundation for what will become one of our state's most prosperous industries," O'Beirne said.

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