What You Need to Know About the Changes in New Jersey Cannabis Licensing Process
In a surprising turn of events, New Jersey’s cannabis regulators have made amendments to their previous decision to prioritize individuals with prior convictions for marijuana offenses or those from economically disadvantaged areas of the state in obtaining certain cannabis business licenses. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission initially voted in June to grant these applicants, referred to as social equity applicants, first access to wholesale, distributor, and delivery services licenses for a period of one year starting in September. However, following criticism, the commission decided to modify the time frame to address concerns that the previous decision would unintentionally exclude other cannabis entrepreneurs who were affected by the drug war but did not fit the social equity applicant definition.
Long-time cannabis advocate Leo Bridgewater expressed his opinion that the initial decision would not have benefited New Jersey’s cannabis industry as a whole. He argued that sacrificing the needs of many for the needs of a few would not be ideal at this point in time. In response to such feedback, the newly approved rules, effective September 27, state that social equity applicants seeking wholesale, distributor, and delivery licenses will have priority for the first three months. Subsequently, for the following three months, priority will be given to diversely owned cannabis businesses, including those owned by women, minorities, or disabled veterans. It is important to note that neither the June decision nor the recent amendment applies to applicants seeking cultivation, manufacturing, or retail licenses.
The motion to modify the June decision passed with a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Charles Barker as the sole dissenting vote. Barker, often known for voting against the majority, defended the initial one-year timeline, stating that it would have provided significant assistance to those most affected by marijuana prohibition. He stressed that New Jersey’s marijuana legalization law aims to rectify the injustices of the failed war on drugs without compromise.
Chairwoman Dianne Houenou voiced concerns that the one-year priority period would have excluded Black and brown business owners. She acknowledged that the intention was well-meaning but felt that it would hinder diversely owned businesses from timely submitting their applications to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) and getting their operations up and running.
Tiyahnn Bryant, the founder of Roll Up Life, who is seeking approval for delivery applications, emphasized that his business is located in his hometown of East Orange, with half of the city qualifying within the social equity criteria. However, his business is just one building away from the border that defines an economically disadvantaged area. Bryant questioned whether it was necessary to prioritize social equity companies at the expense of businesses like his, which meet most criteria but fall short due to location or lack of prior arrests.
The debate over prioritizing certain groups of cannabis applicants over others also sparked discussions about the challenges faced by the market, particularly the issue of dispensaries not opening due to onerous requirements and municipal hurdles. In addition to obtaining state approval, cannabis business owners must also receive the consent of the municipality where they plan to operate. This requirement has posed a significant obstacle, as approximately 400 out of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities have chosen to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
While overturning Barker’s resolution was seen as a prudent move to keep the industry moving forward, Bridgewater highlighted that the ongoing disputes over prioritization fail to address the larger problem at hand. The primary issue lies in the cumbersome requirements and obstacles faced by dispensaries, hindering their ability to open. Understanding the reasons behind the reluctance of municipalities to embrace the cannabis industry is crucial in tackling the overall challenges faced by the market.
The adjustments made by New Jersey’s cannabis regulators reflect their commitment to fostering equity within the industry. By reevaluating the initial decision and incorporating a phased approach to prioritization, the commission aims to create a fair and inclusive licensing process that allows individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate in the state’s growing cannabis market.