“It costs a lot to enter the New York cannabis market. Real estate is already limited, and landlords are scared of dealing with cannabis companies. Businesses are laden with unfavorable tax burdens, and they can’t delete expenses. Vendor costs are at a premium and until banking legislation passes at the federal level, businesses can’t raise money or get a loan.”
Getting into the regulated cannabis industry is anything but a walk in the park. It doesn't matter whether you're venturing in as a budtender, extractor, entrepreneur, educator, or investor, the red tape orchestrated by the federal status of cannabis will always throw a spanner in the works. Of course, cannabis businesses bear the greatest brunt as they have to contend against numerous regulatory challenges. One is likely to encounter several bottlenecks in the process of acquiring real estate, applying for licenses, financing and insuring the businesses, and much more, the state notwithstanding.
As Jennifer Cabrera puts it, “it takes a lot to enter the New York cannabis industry.” Jennifer was hired by Vicente Sederberg in 2019 to launch the New York office and later added a New Jersey office in 2021. She is well experienced as a cannabis attorney and has been privileged to learn from the very best in the industry. In this interview with MyCannabis, she narrates her journey through the industry, her role at Vicente Sederberg, and shares insights on legal issues affecting the regulated cannabis industry in New York and beyond.
As an intro, how did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?
Cannabis attorney wasn’t a job when I graduated from law school. I started in litigation and arbitration and worked for over a decade, focusing on commercial contract disputes. In 2014, I helped a family friend who applied for a cannabis retail license in Massachusetts, and I really enjoyed the process. From there, I decided to switch full-time to cannabis law. I was ecstatic to start working in a field that I felt I could believe in. My parents have always used cannabis, and it’s been beneficial to their lives.
In 2019, I was fortunate to meet Adam Fine, Vicente Sederberg’s Managing Partner, at NECANN in Boston. After speaking with him, I knew that a chance to work with VS would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where I would learn cannabis law from the best lawyers in the country. Adam hired me to launch Vicente Sederberg’s New York office later that year, and we added a New Jersey office in 2021. It’s been an incredible experience to be a part of the New York and New Jersey regulated markets from their inception.
Briefly introduce VS and the unique role that the company is playing to move the cannabis industry forward?
One of my first projects here was a complex change of ownership and shareholder dispute, which involved IP licensing, Colorado cannabis regulations, tax planning and employment law issues. Working with our corporate team and Colorado licensing team, we developed a new corporate structure and set the company up for multi-state expansion. I've also worked on dozens of successful new business applications in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. For many of our New Jersey and New York clients, they are first setting up their company structure and taking on early investment. It's an exciting stage to work with a business.
Tell us briefly about your role as a cannabis attorney working for one of the most reputable and accomplished law firms in the space- VS.
I feel very fortunate to work with the most talented group of cannabis attorneys in the space. I was a commercial litigator for a decade, and I joined Vicente Sederberg to help launch the New York office. This job didn't exist when I was in law school, and it wouldn’t be possible without people who are genuinely at the top of their games. I'm learning from them all the time.
For an entrepreneur looking to venture into the cannabis space in New York, what are some of the bottlenecks that they are likely to come across when applying for a license?
It costs a lot to enter the New York cannabis market. Real estate is already limited, and landlords are scared of dealing with cannabis companies. Businesses are laden with unfavorable tax burdens, and they can’t delete expenses. Vendor costs are at a premium and until banking legislation passes at the federal level, businesses can’t raise money or get a loan.
The industry has been waiting, on bated breath, for the cannabis administration and opportunity act to be passed. What are some of the real setbacks that are holding the industry back from full legalization?
The main setback is the federal government’s difficulty with functioning properly. There are also a lot of competing interests in the cannabis industry. Some sections believe full legalization would create a plethora of opportunities for the space and its operators. Others in the sector see legalization as a mixed blessing that will bring in more competition.
What’s next for Vicente Sederberg?
I’m working with our tri-state team on serving the new markets in New York and New Jersey. The spate of Mid-Atlantic states launching medical and adult-use sales in the past few years has opened the doors for entrepreneurs looking to get involved in the hottest cannabis markets. We’re keeping ourselves busy, it’s an exciting time to work in the industry.
It was a great pleasure to have this one-on-one with Jennifer Cabrera, Vicente Sederberg Attorney. Readers who wish to keep up with the company are more than welcome to visit their website.