New Jersey’s cannabis regulators took one step forward and one step back at their March 24 meeting.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) approved 68 conditional adult-use cannabis cultivation and manufacturing licenses Thursday but delayed the approval of eight medical cannabis dispensaries that want to expand to serve the broader adult-use market, according to an NJ.com report.
Allowing the medical cannabis retailers to sell to adult-use consumers would allow New Jersey to launch its commercial adult-use market next month, whereas the conditional licensees—50 growers and 18 manufacturers—are not expected to launch operations until this fall.
CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said that the decision to allow the medical dispensaries to expand was put on hold because commissioners want to see plans for how the retailers can accommodate both medical patients and adult-use customers at their locations, according to NJ.com.
Brown estimated that the medical cannabis dispensaries may be short by 100,000 pounds of product to meet both medical and adult-use demand.
“We may not be 100 percent there today, but I assure you we will get there,” Brown said. “We have a few things to address, and when we address them, I’m happy to return to this body with a further update.”
Brown added that the CRC’s goal is to work with the industry to ensure that the state’s medical cannabis retailers are ready to launch adult-use sales, and that regulators will allow the dispensaries to expand as soon as possible.
The commission plans to conduct site visits of the medical retailers in the next few weeks, NJ.com reported, and regulators want the dispensaries to have separate entrances and lines for medical patients and adult-use customers.
Commissioners also want the retailers to commit to hiring people with past cannabis-related arrests or those from disadvantaged areas, according to the news outlet.
The CRC’s next scheduled meeting was slated for May 24, NJ.com reported, but after Vice Chairman Sam Delgado suggested holding a hearing next month to expedite the approval of the medical cannabis dispensaries seeking to serve the adult-use market, commissioners set a special meeting for April 11.
As of March 22, 264 adult-use dispensary applications had been submitted, and a total of 675 total applications have been submitted since December, the news outlet reported.
New Jersey voters approved an adult-use legalization measure in the November 2020 election, and Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing cannabis in 2017, signed legislation into law in February 2021 to implement the program.
The program then got off to a rocky start when the CRC missed a September 2021 deadline to start accepting business license applications.
The state instead began accepting license applications from growers, product manufacturers and testing labs in December, and started accepting applications from retailers in March.
While adult-use sales were initially expected to launch in late February, regulators are now aiming for later this spring.
Industry stakeholders are beginning to lose their patience.
“Frustrating day in NJ—once again the goal posts have been moved and the will of the people and the governor is being ignored,” Boris Jordan, founder and chairman of multistate cannabis operator Curaleaf, said in a tweet. “We will continue to fight for what the NJ voters decided they want—a safe and regulated adult-use cannabis marketplace!”
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association said it was also disappointed with Thursday’s decision to further delay adult-use sales, but that the organization “remains optimistic” that the market will open “sooner rather than later.”
“In November 2020, New Jerseyans made it very clear that they wanted a safe and legal adult-use cannabis marketplace in the state,” the association said in a public statement. “It goes without saying that no one could have foreseen that some 16 months later, we would still be waiting to see this come to fruition. When it comes down to it, it’s New Jersey’s citizens who are missing out. The adult-use market will be a huge boon to New Jersey’s economy.
“Additionally, this new industry is slated to create 19,000 new jobs, and taxes from a legal marketplace will support goals to promote social equity by providing economic assistance to impact zones that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. We continue to look forward to working side-by-side with the CRC to ensure a seamless transition to recreational sales for all parties.”
Joshua Horn, co-chair of the national cannabis law practice group at Fox Rothschild, also expects New Jersey’s cannabis market to boost the state’s economy when it does eventually launch.
“I think a lot of communities took the ‘not in my backyard’ approach to opt out from adult use but will come to regret their decision,” he said in a public statement. “These communities will lose out of good paying jobs and the corresponding infusion of tax dollars."