Two years ago, in a first-floor home office in Montclair, working a few feet from his father at a long countertop desk, Andrew Marshall’s business plan began to take shape.

His idea – to establish a cannabis-growing company that would be entrenched in his hometown and bring a personal touch to an industry that is burgeoning across the state and country.

In one sense, Marshall, now 27 and a Montclair High School graduate, sees himself as a craftsman who promises to meticulously oversee the science and art of growing cannabis, then bring the product to local retailers. 

“The same,” he said, “as when you go to the supermarket and you see a jar of tomato sauce made with New Jersey tomatoes. That’s what we all want.”

To make it all happen, though, Marshall has to first jockey through a grinding part of the process. It is an undertaking slowed by a halting bureaucracy – while his company, Genuine Grow, has been granted a  conditional license by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Marshall still has to go before the Montclair Planning Board and gain approval from the Township Council.

While the number of licenses may expand, right now Marshall is competing against one other company for the single available license for a cannabis-growing business in Montclair. He has already spent about $50,000 to get to this point, he said, including a $15,000 application fee to Montclair and money spent on lawyers and experts in the field. On Jan. 1, he will begin paying rent on space in an old, brick industrial building at 154 Pine St.

Slender, with an earnest and gentle way about him, Marshall has been a presence at recent council meetings, sitting in the gallery, he said, simply to better understand the workings of local government. He is an assistant production coordinator for NBC’s reboot of “Law & Order,” responsible for providing rental vehicles, insurance for workers’ compensation, and myriad other production details. He calls this the “engine center” of the show and says it has helped prepare him for the complexities of operating a cannabis-growing business.

In his father, Scott Marshall, he has a model for enterprising thinking who has created four startups, among other business ventures. Andrew Marshall was still at Glenfield Middle School when he began a rare sneaker collection, selling the shoes for as much $2,000 a pair. His collection was the theme at his bar mitzvah.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he and his father became very close, working in the same space and conspiring on ideas.

“He's always been passionate about what he does, like his sneaker collection, but the way he's gone about this opportunity and cannabis is like nothing I've ever seen before,” Scott Marshall said. “He's done so much research, he just knows what he's doing. He's got people calling him now to help with license applications in other parts of the state.” 

In many ways, though, Andrew Marshall has found his inspiration in his brother, David, younger by a year and a half. David, high on the autism spectrum, has significantly shaped the life of the entire family, including their mother, Diane, and the youngest of the siblings, Stella, who is a college student.

When Marshall was 11, he found himself alongside Oprah Winfrey on a segment focusing on the ripple effects autism can have on an entire family. Introspective, it seemed, beyond his years, he opened up about his nuanced feelings.

“What I want people to know is he’s not dumb,” he told Winfrey. “He’s really smart in his own way. He can swim really good. He can rollerblade as well as I can. He’s really lovable. He loves to be with his family, and that’s probably the best thing about him.”

Scott Marshall is the chairman of the board of directors for REED Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to educating people with autism and helping them achieve their full potential. He is still taken with how Andrew relates to his younger brother. “He appreciates him in a special way,” Scott Marshall said.

With his brother in mind, Andrew Marshall said he plans to hire a number of people on the autism spectrum. It is partly bittersweet, he acknowledged, because his brother is not able to be part of that effort.

Andrew Marshall is focused now on the intricacies of getting Genuine Grow off the ground – something he envisions as a year away. He talked about the process of growing cannabis tenderly. 

“We will literally know every single plant in that building,” he said. “Which plant is happy, which plants are sad, which plant needs nutrients, which plants have maybe too many nutrients. We're going to have an eye on every single plant in that building.”

He added, “This is work and this is a craft that has to be done right.”