Are you thinking about getting involved in the cannabis industry? On March 8, 2023, NJ Cannabis Insider will host the first major industry conference in the state. There is a limited number of tickets available.
Nearly a year after the legal market in New Jersey opened, a member of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission suggested Thursday that more licences be delayed until minority applicants have a chance to compete.
During their regular monthly meeting, Commissioner Charles Barker shared his interpretation of a law signed by Governor Phil Murphy in 2021, stating that the commission has the authority “to make decisions based on market needs and what the market demands.”
Given that “the main reason why we legalised marijuana in every state is to address the harm among certain groups — specifically the Black and brown groups,” according to Barker, “the market needs and demands more Black and brown businesses in order to establish a more equitable foundation,” he continued.
It is my firm belief that we are capable of greater success. I’m sure we can do better,” Barker declared.
It was the largest public discussion to date of the racial inequities in what experts predict will be a multibillion-dollar industry. Even though the rates of use are roughly the same, prior to the legalisation of weed two years ago, Black people in New Jersey were 3-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. A major point of contention in favour of legalising cannabis was the possibility it would open the market to people of colour.
It’s important to note that almost all of the multi-state operators led by white people in the legal marijuana industry were given first dibs on the 21+ market when it opened on April 21, 2022, thanks to legislation that favoured medicinal marijuana growers and sellers. This commission has come under fire amid concerns that minorities are being neglected because of the slow expansion. Barker has been an outspoken critic, frequently voting down approvals of applicants due to a lack of diversity.
Staff at the commission give preference to applicants who belong to underrepresented groups, have faced adversity in the past, are from low-income areas, or have been arrested for marijuana possession.
The state Economic Development Authority has announced a $10 million grant programme for entrants in the cannabis market, of which 40% will go to social equity applicants (those with prior marijuana convictions or from disadvantaged communities) and 5% will go to licence holders who plan to operate in “impact zones,” as well as people from communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
After Barker mentioned that “we” could do better, commission chair Dianna Houenou asked for clarification. Board members “cannot regulate the composition of these businesses,” she said. The website has a wealth of information, she continued, so please feel free to peruse it. Everyone who is interested in working in this highly regulated field is welcome to come and meet with us.
Barker proposed delaying approvals until more diverse businesses got off the ground as a means to speed up the process of achieving equity.
I think we can take our time and roll it out in a way that ensures more equitable opportunity rather than just a larger market. We can wait patiently for a more equitable playing field. Barker suggested proposing equality as a means to give everyone a level playing field.
The CEO, Jeff Brown, has stated that the actual numbers are more favourable than they initially appear, and that the outlook for the company is optimistic. Even before Thursday’s vote, the commission had already granted licences to one in four Black-owned businesses to cultivate, manufacture, and sell cannabis.
Of the 17 annual licences the commission approved, Brown said that 12 are “diversely-owned,” meaning they are run by women, minorities, veterans, or a combination of these groups. Betterment is always within our reach. I have faith that things will get better.
According to Brown, additional information will be presented at the April meeting.
Brown has pledged that “we are committed to being full transparent” about the state of the market. In my experience, this area is quickly becoming one of the most ethnically and racially diverse in the country.
They should be “judicious in our approach,” Vice Chairman Sam Delgado said. There was only one majority Black-owned business application approved by the commission that day, he said. It wouldn’t have been fair to the minority applicant to postpone the vote.
We have the ability to be more patient, but how do we know that businesses share that capacity? They have expenses like rent, legal fees, and consultant costs,” Delgado explained.
Just last month, the first Black-owned medical marijuana dispensary in the state was opened by Suzan Nickelson, a businesswoman with deep ties to the illegal cannabis market. Waterford Township, Camden County, is home to Holistic Solutions.
Cannabis lawyer Charles Gormally of Roseland’s Brach Eichler firm said he missed Barker’s recommendations. After hearing a summary of Barker’s remarks, however, Gormally questioned whether it was fair to alter the approval process at this time.
According to an email sent by Gormally to NJ Advance Media, “the CRC has always indicated that they would move applications through the process as quickly as they were able to,” and that this would occur after applicants were given priority consideration if they met the criteria for priority evaluation. The CRC’s new glidepath to licensure has “put me off a little” if I’d gone through the process, gotten priority consideration, gotten my conditional licence, and then converted to an annual licence.
I don’t think there’s a risk there, and I don’t think it’s illegal.
The commission approved 17 annual licences, including one that will allow the medical dispensary BLOC, formerly Justice Grown, to serve adults over the age of 21 in Ewing and Franklin Township, Somerset.