New Jersey awards first round of recreational marijuana licenses for growers

FILE - The THC percentages of recreational marijuana are visible on the product packaging sitting on a countertop, April 19, 2021, in Mamaroneck, N.Y.  New York is proposing a $200 million fund to help people of color, women and some others start marijuana businesses. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

FILE - The THC percentages of recreational marijuana are visible on the product packaging sitting on a countertop, April 19, 2021, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. New York is proposing a $200 million fund to help people of color, women and some others start marijuana businesses. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

The day when New Jerseyans can walk into a store and legally purchase marijuana is inching closer, but not as quickly as anticipated.

At a meeting on Thursday, the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission approved the conditional licenses for 68 entities wishing to manufacture and cultivate recreational marijuana.

Their approval marks the first official commercial cannabis licenses issued in the state.

However, the commission stopped short of greenlighting the expansion applications for eight existing medical dispensaries, which had applied to add recreational marijuana sales to their inventory.

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“While we may not be there 100% today, we can get there.” said commission Executive Director Jeff Brown. “I assure you that staff is committed to doing this, but we need the industry to work with us.”

If those applications had been approved, the state would be 30 days out from commercial adult-use cannabis sales. Brown said the applicants successfully demonstrated support from their municipalities, but hadn’t done enough to ensure there would be sustained prioritized access for their medical patients. The alternate treatment centers also fell short on plans to hire employees who had been negatively affected by previous marijuana laws, he said.

Commissioner Charles Barker agreed that the process shouldn’t be rushed.

“We are right on the cusp of transitioning and as we do, we must remain focused on the big picture,” Barker said. “Part of the reason for legalizing cannabis was to right the wrongs of the failed drug war, for people and communities most harmed.”

Brown said his staff will work with applicants to help them set up specific points of sale and shopping hours exclusively for medical patients, and to create hiring plans that prioritize those with marijuana convictions.

The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association expressed disappointment on the delay.

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“When it comes down to it, it’s New Jersey’s citizens who are missing out,” wrote the association in a statement, pointing to the thousands of jobs the industry is predicted to create that are now on hold. “The adult-use market will be a huge boon to New Jersey’s economy.”

Governor Phil Murphy signed the bill approving adult use of marijuana, along with its accompanying guidelines, into law more than a year ago, in February 2021.

So far, the commissioners said they have received 675 applications for all types of licenses, including cultivation, manufacturing, and now,  commercial sales. Applications for cultivation and manufacturing opened in December, and for dispensaries earlier this month, on March 15th. Since then the commission said it has received 232 retailer applications.

Under the CRC’s rules,  businesses owned by those with past cannabis convictions, people from designated Economically Disadvantaged Areas, and minority-owned, woman-owned, and disabled-veteran-owned receive priority.

Applicants are scored based on their business plan, liability insurance plan, or regulatory compliance plan. Owners must not have made more than $200,000 in the previous tax period.

Among the 230 people involved in the 68 applications greenlit on Thursday for conditional approval by the committee, nearly half are white and 28% are Black.

Among the owners of those entities, half are Black.

Conditional license awardees must eventually apply for an annual license, which requires a more comprehensive application process.

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