N.J. is closer to allowing public cannabis consumption areas, as local startups hope for bigger opportunities

File photo: A customer displays some marijuana he just purchased at a RISE dispensary in Bloomfield, N.J., Thursday, April 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

File photo: A customer displays some marijuana he just purchased at a RISE dispensary in Bloomfield, N.J., Thursday, April 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey is close to establishing regulations that would allow cannabis retailers and medical cannabis facilities to create public consumption areas.

The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) unanimously approved rules related to public consumption areas at a public meeting this month.

The commission said the proposed rules “provide the legal requirements for cannabis consumption areas, a fee structure for applications, and details” for how consumption facilities should be operated. A representative for the CRC said the entity will publish details about the proposal to the New Jersey Register — a free public access site — on Thursday.

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The public will have 60 days to comment before the commission votes to adopt the proposals,

“It’s a great idea,” said Lemar Boone Jr., part-owner of adult-use cannabis retail company, Cuzzies.

“I think that we should have places where we can safely consume that are out of the way … that may not cause a nuisance to other people,” Boone Jr. said.

Cuzzies, a fledgling minority-owned startup operation in Pennsauken, obtained a conditional retail license from the CRC in July. Boone Jr. noted that most facilities currently approved to sell cannabis are large out-of-state corporations known as multistate operators, something he’s “slightly disappointed” about it — especially considering New Jersey leaders say they are committed to social equity when rolling out the market.

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He also said that it can discourage some first-time entrepreneurs who face challenges securing funds and the real estate necessary to launch a successful venture.

The New Jersey General Assembly is scheduled to vote on legislation that supporters, like sponsor Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), say would ensure minority and women-owned businesses have better “opportunities to be involved in both the medical and adult cannabis industry.”

It revises existing rules by allowing investors and groups that invest in minority-owned cannabis companies to own up to a 35 % interest in as many as seven cannabis retail businesses, according to the bill’s language – provided the retail license holder is also certified as a minority-owned business.

“It permits a fund or a licensed cannabis entity to invest in a certified minority or women’s business or a disabled veteran’s business,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “The cannabis market is meant to be a boon for equity but we are finding that for some people the cost of entry is too high.  Hopefully this legislation will help to begin leveling the playing field.  We want to ensure that those most impacted by the war on drugs and our underserved communities have the opportunity to be a part of the process.”

The Senate has yet to hear the bill in committee.

“New Jersey did a pretty good job with giving these conditional licenses out,” Boone Jr. said. “After the conditional licenses were handed out in New Jersey, there’s not much to continue to push forward.”

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