Cannabis regulators in New Jersey announced this week that the state would begin accepting applications for marijuana business licenses next month, more than a year after voters in the state legalized recreational pot in the 2020 general election. At a meeting of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) on Tuesday, officials revealed applications for adult-use marijuana cultivators, processors and testing labs.
The agency also announced that it will begin accepting applications for recreational cannabis dispensaries on March 15, 2022. Applications for cannabis delivery services, distributors and wholesalers will be accepted at a later date once regulations for those business types have been drafted and approved.
Applications from businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities will receive priority review, as will companies owned by individuals who have been arrested for a marijuana-related offense or who live in economically disadvantaged areas or municipalities with a disproportionate rate of cannabis-related arrests. Applications from microbusinesses with 10 or fewer employees will also be reviewed on a priority basis.
Regulators have not established a deadline for applications to be submitted and will instead accept them on a continuing basis. New licenses for cannabis cultivators issued through February 2023 will be capped at 37, but there will be no limit placed on other license types. Applications for adult-use cannabis business licenses will be available online, and the commission will host an informational webinar for potential applicants on November 30.
New Jersey Regulators Behind Schedule
New Jersey voters legalized adult-use cannabis with the approval of Question 1 in the November 2020 general election, which passed with 67 percent of the vote. The law set a September 2021 deadline for the CRC to begin accepting applications for business licenses. Regulators missed the deadline, however, and instead announced that they were establishing the process to accept the applications at a later date.
The legislation also mandated that legal sales of recreational cannabis begin by mid-February of next year or within six months after the commission adopted its initial regulations. But in September, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy said that the launch of dispensary sales would also likely be delayed.
“First or second quarter from a medical dispensary and then a little bit behind that from a standalone retail shop,” Murphy said. “I think there’s a very good chance, assuming the medical dispensaries can prove that they’ve got enough supply for their patients, that they’ll be able to participate in the adult use of cannabis before there are actually retail establishments independently set up, but this is coming.”
Medical Marijuana Approved in 2010
Medical marijuana was legalized in New Jersey in 2010, with the first regulated cannabis dispensaries opening two years later. Last month, the CRC announced 14 new licenses for medical marijuana cultivators and vertically integrated businesses. The applications for the new businesses were originally submitted in 2019, but awarding the licenses was delayed by legal action challenging the rules governing the process.
CRC chairwoman Dianna Houenou said at the time that the agency had awarded five more cultivation permits than originally planned in 2019 because of increasing patient demand for regulated products.
“The current alternative treatment centers have not kept pace with patient need,” said Houenou. “We constantly hear from patients that prices are too high and that there are too few dispensaries with too few product options. The situation has not changed with the legalization of recreational cannabis. Our priority is to our patients and increasing the planned number of medicinal cannabis operators in the market will greatly benefit them.”
Applications for additional medical marijuana dispensaries are also pending with state regulators. At Tuesday’s meeting, CRC executive director said that all applications have already been scored and the new licenses will be awarded once the results have been compiled.
“We are trying to move these as quickly as we possibly can,” Brown said.
The commission also took public comments to establish guidelines for labeling regulated cannabis products at this week’s meeting. Those testifying on the subject recommended that the commission adopt a label with a consistent shape and image to warn consumers that a product contains THC. They advised against using wording on the labels, noting that individuals who do not read English may have difficulty comprehending the text.
Regulators also accepted public testimony on cannabis edibles, which so far have not been regulated by the commission. Advocates called for access to edibles for consumers who do not wish to smoke.
“Any form of edibles should be permitted, as long as the regulatory procedures are followed,” said Ken Wolski, co-founder of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey. “Anything a patient needs should be available to them.”