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Westchester TIER Talks examines smoking-hot cannabis industry

By Steve Seepersaud


Dating back to the founding of our country, cannabis has always been a sought-after commodity. Today, the craze for this plant is bigger than ever. Across America, more people are clamoring for medical and recreational marijuana. Businesses are trying to stake their claim into what could be the next iteration of the 1990s tech boom.

An esteemed panel of cannabis industry experts – two of whom are Binghamton University alumni – explored these issues Sept. 27, at the first TIER Talks® presented by M&T Bank in Westchester County. Nearly 50 people attended the lively and interactive discussion co-sponsored by the Alumni Association and Westchester Chapter.

Neil Kaufman '81 (see his presentation), managing member, Kaufman & Associates, LLC, corporate and securities counsel to the legal cannabis industry, discussed the plant's long history in the United States. For a time, it was the country's most in-demand crop, later pushed down to third on the list behind cotton and tobacco.

"[Today], the cannabis industry has grown to $6.7 billion, and has provided 150,000 American jobs," said Kaufman. "Many states have become dependent on cannabis jobs. Wall Street hasn't seen an industry growth like this since the 1990s. The question isn't 'should I invest?' It's 'which cannabis stock should I buy?'"

Matt Greene (see his presentation) remembers the tech boom well, having worked alongside Apple icon Steve Jobs to launch Next computers. Greene would later leverage that experience by joining one of the earliest interactive advertising agencies which pioneered online ROI marketing. He said high-tech used to be dominated by a scant few companies – such as Prodigy, Yahoo and AOL, now considered to be dinosaurs – but the sector has thousands of companies.

"I've been to this rodeo before, and I'm going to do it again in cannabis," said Greene, who is founder and managing partner of 420Group, LLC, a boutique investment firm focused on the ancillary businesses and technologies being developed to support the legal cannabis industry. "What will happen in the cannabis space by 2021 is that there will be over 2,000 companies that support the industry."

Yasmin Hurd '82 (see her presentation), Ward Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine; and director of the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System Addiction Institute, shot down the notion that cannabis is a miracle drug able to cure a litany of conditions including even writer's cramp. She cautioned that, with more than 450 chemicals, marijuana is extremely complex and scientists have been working to determine what components are helpful and which ones have undesirable side effects. She discussed her research into chemicals which have shown promise in treating opioid addicts.

"We found that cannabidiol reduces opium withdrawal symptoms," Hurd said. "The most fascinating thing about cannabidiol is that it lasts a long time in reducing heroin seeking behavior in animals.

The major thing that's important from a clinical perspective is that it has a beneficial effect even when it's not in the body."

Debra Borchardt (see her presentation), co-founder and CEO of Green Market Media, pointed out the paradox that medical and recreational marijuana – on the surface, seeming to be closely aligned – are actually at odds with each other. This has been evident in states with dispensaries.

"Your [medical] insurance isn't going to cover [marijuana] anyway, so why not go to a dispensary? It's much easier," said Borchardt, who worked for 20 years in the securities industry before reporting on the cannabis industry. "If I'm making a medical product, I want to hire more people, expand and grow. But, if customers are leaving me, I have to start making more adult-use products. And, the concern is that it will take away from research. If more money goes to the adult-use side, there's less motivation to do research on things like autism and dementia."

Dana West '98, Westchester Chapter leader, hosted the event at his firm Prudential Financial in White Plains. He was moderator for the session.

"[The Alumni Association] appreciates the ability to bring you a dynamic discussion," West said. "There will be a lot more TIER Talks events off campus as time goes on."


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Last Updated: 3/29/18