Legal recreational weed sales remain a no-go in New Jersey, more than a year after residents voted to decriminalize the drug, New Jersey cannabis regulators said Thursday — dashing hopes of some industry leaders who thought sales could start as soon as May 1.
The state’s top weed regulator, Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, said medical marijuana companies were closer than last month to getting a green light, but not there yet.
Current medical cannabis companies still don’t have enough supply for both patients and recreational consumers, their plans to ensure uninterrupted access for patients are inadequate, and their commitments to hiring people with marijuana convictions and from economically disadvantaged areas lack specifics, Brown told commissioners.
To speed things along, Brown said, staff of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) would meet with medical cannabis sellers over the next two weeks to resolve deficiencies in their bids to sell recreational cannabis at their stores, known as alternative treatment centers, or ATCs.
“I’m extremely confident in our ability collaboratively, the CRC and the industry, to fix these issues and get this market off the ground quickly,” Brown said.
On the plus side, the CRC approved 68 conditional licenses, for 50 cultivators and 18 manufacturers, including 26 micro businesses that are restricted to a maximum of 10 employees.
Those companies, identified only by their legal names, such as Good Lettuce Co., and with no information about where they might locate, now have four months to find a site, gain municipal approval, and apply for a full annual license. The conditional license was designed to allow entrepreneurs and small businesses a way into the industry.
“This is the first slate of many,” said Brown, who touted the racial diversity of the companies’ ownership. Nearly half of the companies getting the first licenses are majority-owned by Black people, he said. And 13% have majority ownership that identified as Hispanic or Latino, he said.
Charles Barker, one of five commissioners, welcomed the delay in recreational sales, saying the CRC must be “honest and intentional about who is benefiting” from legalization.
“Part of the reason that cannabis was legalized was to right the wrongs of the failed drug war, for people and communities most harmed,” he said.
Observers praised the CRC for licensing the first small, diverse businesses before allowing existing players — mostly big companies in multiple states — to start selling recreational weed in a market that is expected to reach $2 billion in sales by 2025.
The CRC “demonstrated an educated and sincere commitment to a fair cannabis market today by ensuring that small businesses have an opportunity for success,” Shaleen Title, a former member of Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, said in an email.
“In other states, equity efforts have been undermined by early market domination by medical operators, and the NJ CRC is wisely avoiding that result,” said Title, now CEO of the Parabola Center think tank that says it promotes cannabis policy for people, not corporations.
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, which represents companies that own 11 of the state’s 23 medical cannabis dispensaries and has been pushing since last fall for recreational sales to start, said its members were disappointed.
“In November 2020, New Jerseyans made it very clear that they wanted a safe and legal adult-use cannabis marketplace in the state. 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,” the association said in a statement.