New Jersey lawmakers and regulators clash over delayed cannabis sales

Jhe New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) voted March 24 to approve “conditional” licenses for 68 different companies, but again chose to delay the opening of the first dispensaries as part of the cannabis legalization measure. adult use that voters approved in November 2020. The decision sparked outrage from lawmakers and cannabis companies. But given the circumstances, some proponents of legalization are less worried.

Companies that have received conditional approval include cannabis growers, manufacturers, and testing labs. “These are the first companies to get a foothold in the state of New Jersey,” noted Jeff Brown, CRC Executive Director. “I cannot insist on this point.”

But dispensaries, places where people can actually buy cannabis, have been left out. The CRC recently opened applications for dispensary licenses on March 15 and has since received 232 applications.

As in other states, existing medical marijuana businesses are expected to be the first to be approved for retail sale. New Jersey legalized medical cannabis in 2010, and now has 11 companies operating 23 medical dispensaries. Eight companies plan to expand their operations to include sales for adult use, but the CRC denied their requests on March 24. These companies must now amend their reconsideration requests.

“These delays are completely unacceptable.”

Medical marijuana executives slam CRC’s slow progress in approving dispensaries. “Ultimately, it’s the citizens of New Jersey who are missing out,” wrote the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, representing the 11 medical companies. “The adult-use market will be a huge boon to New Jersey’s economy.”

And State Senate Speaker Nick Scutari (D) went much further. “These delays are totally unacceptable,” he said. “We need to establish the legal marijuana market in New Jersey.” put teeth behind his callshe wants to form a special commission of inquiry in the Legislative Assembly, to question what is taking so long.

This makes Senator Scutari a warrior for access to cannabis. But we must remember that this is the same Scutari who recently argued that New Jersey residents should not be trusted to grow their own cannabis plants at home. That tells us a lot about his intentions – he’s using his political power to try and push through early cannabis sales that will primarily benefit existing medical marijuana companies.

And these are not small family shops. Several companies, like Columbia Care, Curaleaf, and Apothecarium, are large corporations that aren’t even based in New Jersey. They have portfolios of stores across the United States, and some even internationally.

At this point, New Jersey voters have waited nearly 17 months since they approved legalization. It’s long, and that means many of the harms of Prohibition live on. But New Jersey’s cannabis regulators aren’t doing a particularly bad job. As New Jersey Monitor notes, most states have taken this long to open retail sales. Some, like massachusettstook even longer. New Mexico does it in just one year, but it’s exceptionally fast.

“In order to get it right, there will be delays.”

Leo Bridgewater, director of veteran outreach at Minorities for Medical Marijuana, takes a more relaxed view of the wait. And he praised Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and the CRC for their work so far on legalization, especially compared to Murphy’s predecessor Chris Christie (R), who was far more opposed to cannabis reform .

“In order to get it right, there are going to be delays,” Bridgewater said. Filtered. “To see where we are today compared to where we came from, I think it’s pretty remarkable.”

Bridgewater also praised Murphy for his commitment to medical marijuana patients. As Filtered reported, New Jersey’s registered medical marijuana patient population grew dramatically during Murphy’s tenure, now numbering more than 100,000. But the state is suffering. a general shortage of medical productsand prices soared to some of the highest in the country.

In reality, the CRC rejected the plans of the eight medical operators to expand because regulators fear medical patients will be overlooked once the doors open to adults.

New Jersey Cannabis Law also requires measures like prioritizing business licenses and jobs for residents of neighborhoods with high rates of marijuana arrests, unemployment, or violent crime. This was another factor in the CRC’s decision; he argued that medical companies had no clear plan for hiring employees from disadvantaged communities.

“Medical cannabis companies might want all day, but that’s not who the CRC answers.”

“I think medical cannabis [companies] want to see [their approval] happen,” Bridgewater said. “But I don’t give much credit to their ability to lobby… They might want all day, but it’s not who the CRC answers to, they answer to the people. I think the CRC is much more concerned about it being for people from a medical point of view.

As New Jersey continues this process, all eyes will be on the CRC to see if its licensing process helps create opportunities for black and Latino residents, for example, who have historically been targeted by police. of the war on drugs. According to the CRC, half of business owners in its first 68 conditional license approvals last week identify as black.

As Bridgewater warned, the “conditional” license is not final. “It’s great that people got this recognition from the state,” he said. “But all these licenses mean that these people have gone from ‘stage one’ to ‘stage two’ of hard work.”

“And the second stage is very different, because now they have to get a lot more details about compliance, people have to raise capital and secure their properties. It’s a lot of hard work that needs to be done. It was the opening salvo.

Photograph by Alexander Lekhtman.

Sallie R. Loera