New Jersey regulators on Thursday said they’re not quite ready to start authorizing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state to begin selling to the recreational market—but the governor urged patience, saying those shops will start serving adult consumers in a “matter of weeks.”
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) responded to the news that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) declined to approve existing dispensaries to start serving the adult-use market, as stakeholders had hoped would be announced at the body’s meeting on Thursday. CRC did, however, separately give conditional approval to 68 marijuana cultivators and manufacturers.
“It’s not going to be months,” Murphy said during an interview with News 12 New Jersey. “The way this is supposed to work—and it is working this way—[is] if a medical dispensary can prove it has more than enough supply for its medical customers, it’s at least eligible. And assuming it meets all the other requirements, including some municipal boxes to check, et cetera, it should be deemed eligible.”
“I believe it will still be a matter of weeks. It is not going to be months. I can’t tell you exactly a date. The commission is doing a great job,” the governor said. “I know everyone thinks it’s taken a long time. I understand that. In this case, as long as the now 127,000 medical patients across that whole system have their supplies satisfied, we should be able to go ahead—and we will go ahead.”
The governor stressed that “equity is a huge part of our proposition here, and I know that may take longer than folks otherwise would like.”
Industry stakeholders are eager to start selling to the adult-use market and feel frustrated by the protracted rollout since New Jersey voters approved a cannabis legalization referendum in 2020 and the legislature proceeded to enact implementing legislation.
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association, for example, said in a statement on Thursday that it is “disappointed” by the regulatory delay, but still “remains optimistic that the CRC will sooner rather than later open the adult-use cannabis market.”
“When it comes down to it, it’s New Jersey’s citizens who are missing out,” the association said. “The adult-use market will be a huge boon to New Jersey’s economy.”
But some advocates have argued that the wait will be worth it to give entrepreneurs from communities most impacted by the war on drugs a chance to compete with large multi-state operators who control some of the current medical dispensaries. They say that other states that have enacted adult-use legalization have not implemented those laws equitably.
“There’s a well-worn path by regulators who gave in to pressure and ignored their own goals to speed up sales by a short period, only to be chastised by the public later for failing to do their job,” Shaleen Title, founder of the Parabola Center and a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator, told Marijuana Moment.
“The NJ CRC is choosing a different path by protecting patient supply and equity,” she said. “Gov. Murphy is right that it’s better to ensure that the state’s requirements are met rather than taking shortcuts that would only cause problems later, as seen in so many other states.”
(Disclosure: Title supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
Commissioner Charles Barker said during Thursday’s meeting that those from disadvantaged communities, particularly people who have been disproportionately harmed under the policy of prohibition, need to “come hungry and ready…to step up and take your rightful seat at the table,” The Asbury Park Press reported.
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Commissioner Krista Nash said that the body “recognizes the desire of the public to get the personal use market up and running, it is a shared responsibility to do so,” and their hope is that “the guidance the commission provides here today will move the process along so we can get these [dispensaries] open [for adult use] in a responsible manner that meets the needs of the patients and the personal use market.”
Some industry officials, meanwhile, are OK with the delay.
The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Edmund DeVeaux, for example, said in a statement that the group is pleased to see that regulators are “not rushing into the process and taking deliberate steps.”
“Doing things correctly was more important than doing things quickly,” he said. “New Jersey is on its way, and we look forward to the next round of progress.”
CRC Chair Dianna Houenou recently said that if the state were to open standalone adult-use shops right now, the industry would be “dominated” by large, multi-state operators.
Murphy, for his part, said that there are “lots of reasons” for the delayed rollout. That includes “equity and making sure we have an industry that looks like our state that is not just in words, but it is an action—a step tangibly toward undoing the damage from the war on drugs.”
“That’s that’s easier said than done,” he said. “We want to get more right than any other state.”
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) recently criticized New Jersey regulators about the diversity issue, saying he’s “outraged” over the lack of minority representation in the industry.
While the governor said on Thursday that it would be weeks and not months before adult-use sales start, he also said the same thing last month. At the time, he also stated that he would be “open-minded” to permitting adults to grow their own marijuana for personal use down the line, but that it would take action by the legislature. The governor similarly talked about being open to home grow late last year.
He’s also recently touted the fact that the courts have expunged more than 362,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when a decriminalization law took effect that mandated the relief for people who have been caught up in prohibition enforcement.
Earlier this month, CRC also held a series of public meetings where it received feedback on how best to allocate marijuana tax revenue after the recreational market opens.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.