With the proliferation of cannabis conferences, a scene of suits gathering to talk about weed is no longer a surprising sight. But on Thursday morning, there was a slightly incongruous detail among the well-heeled crowd in New York City listening to panels on the cannabis industry: Trump was everywhere.
OK, not president Trump — though coincidentally, Thursday marked his first visit as POTUS to the Big Apple. The New York Real Estate Journal event on cannabis and commercial real estate was held at Trump SoHo. As panelists spoke of the risks involved with the federally illegal industry, attendees took notes on Trump-branded notepads with Trump-branded pens while sipping on Trump Reserve coffee.
From L to R: panelists Kris Krane, Tim Keogh, Lauren Rudick, Dawn Sandoval, and moderator Joseph Bondy
“We have seen RICO actions brought against a landlord, who did provide land to a cannabis operation,” said panelist Lauren Rudick, a corporate attorney for Hiller, PC. “Usually the government is just looking for everyone to stop what they’re doing. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, [the government] sort of drops the suit.
“I haven’t actually seen [a RICO case] go through. But I have seen them brought,” she said.
The panelists joked about New York’s not-business-friendly medical marijuana program, comparing it to others in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Georgia.
“Unfortunately, New York set up a program that was really designed to fail,” said Kris Krane of 4 Front Ventures. “[It] looks like they’re adding qualifying conditions [to the] list, they might be adding providers, they’re easing the rules for doctors to get involved. So those businesses that have managed to bleed long enough in New York might actually end up doing quite well.”
From L to R: panelists Anthony Caiazzo, Peggy Noonan, Matt Karnes, Scott Greiper, and moderator Debra Borchardt
Not as well as their neighbors to the North, though. “In Canada… they’re kicking our ass,” said panelist Scott Greiper, president and founding partner of Viridian Capital Advisors. “The average deal size that we’ve been tracking up there is about $35 million. It’s less than $10 million down here in the States.
“People thought you couldn’t invest in companies that touch the plant because they were aiding and abetting and breaking a federal law,” said Greiper. “[But] that’s where the majority of the institutional money is going to,” mostly to the real estate and biotech sectors.
Indeed, cannabis real estate investment trust Innovative Industrial Properties was the first marijuana-related business to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s properties include a 127,000-square-foot facility outside New York City. The space is currently being leased by PharmaCann, one of the five registered organizations dispensing medical marijuana in the state.
The company’s IPO is a sign of the mainstreaming of marijuana. But it was clear that cannabis still has a long way to go before becoming truly mainstream. This reporter asked a few attendees if they would share their thoughts on their interest in the industry. But they all declined to speak on the record, saying that they did not want their names publicly associated with marijuana.
“Everybody’s been freaking out since day 1 [of the Trump administration],” said Anthony Caiazzo, director of cannabis for The Wellington Group and one of the organizers of the event.
“I’m not optimistic we’re going to achieve legalization under the Trump administration,” he said. “But I am optimistic that we might be able to correct things like 280E and the banking problem.”
Caiazzo said that Trump SoHo was “immediately excited” about the potential of hosting the event. “It wasn’t about the politics, it was just straight up good business,” he said. “That’s what we were hoping Trump would be.”
A spokeswoman for Trump SoHo declined to comment, citing hotel policy on not commenting on events held at the venue.
“If [attorney general] Sessions is the worst we ever have to face, I feel pretty good about [the industry’s] long-term prospects,” said Caiazzo.