From EMT To THC: Marine Veteran John De Los Santos And His Inspiring Career Pivot

Amidst the tapestry of a changing cannabis industry, it’s easy to spot buzzwords like “social equity” and “community impact.” But John De Los Santos, a 31-year-old Dominican-American Marine Corps Reserve veteran, is turning those buzzwords into a business with a beating heart in Paterson, New Jersey. Against a backdrop of bureaucratic labyrinthine, his tenacity shines as a real-life odyssey in the Garden State’s unfolding cannabis narrative.

Shifting Gears

The transition from an EMT to a cannabis entrepreneur was more than a mere job switch for De Los Santos. It was an act of embracing a culture still viewed with a skeptical eye. “As an EMT, you get drug tested. They frown upon the culture of cannabis,” De Los Santos told HeadyNJ’s Dan Ulloa. This societal hesitation nudged him back to his roots, working part-time at his father’s shoe repair shop, while he dared to dream bigger.

De Los Santos’s company, Royal Roll LLC, partnered with Canadian cannabis corporation Buzzed Buds, is on the cusp of opening a dispensary in his hometown of Paterson. Securing a conditional New Jersey cannabis dispensary license from the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission last June was like catching lightning in a bottle. With the license on its third extension, expiring on October 21, the team is racing against the clock.

Real Estate: The Hidden Challenge

In an industry where location can be everything, De Los Santos faced seemingly insurmountable hurdles, navigating through Paterson’s zoning maze, which comes with a side of stringent exclusions. “There’s like 30 to 40 schools,” he exclaimed. “Having those constraints limits a lot of places.” The policy, as explained by Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, required dispensaries to avoid setting up shop near schools, churches, and residential areas—a tricky endeavor in a city molded by the Industrial Revolution, with vacant, dilapidated properties ironically making the ideal canvas for new businesses.

Paterson’s bureaucratic tempo had its own set of complexities. A prolonged silence post-application and a $30,000 fee had De Los Santos saying, “They took my money, and we haven’t heard anything.” Yet, after a marathon city council meeting that went until 2 in the morning, the ice finally broke. The council is now in the process of allowing six Paterson cannabis dispensaries and expanding the Green Zone.

Social Equity at the Forefront

De Los Santos isn’t just an entrepreneur; he’s a Social Equity applicant keen on community upliftment. He’s the embodiment of the diverse, community-driven business model that many New Jersey cannabis advocates are clamoring for. With eyes set on charity and local employment, he’s poised to turn Royal Roll into more than just a dispensary, but a cornerstone of community development.

He summed it up best when he said, “My financing team is fully on board with continuing. We do need a new location, and we have one that should be done with the remaining paperwork by the end of the week.”

In an industry that’s as much about navigating politics as it is about understanding the plant, De Los Santos’s story is one of struggle, persistence, and a commitment to social equity, setting the stage for what the future of cannabis entrepreneurship could look like in Paterson, New Jersey, and beyond.

The Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference, the place where deals get done, is returning to Chicago this Sept 27-28 for its 17th edition. Get your tickets today before prices increase and secure a spot at the epicenter of cannabis investment and branding.

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