On Monday, New Jersey’s regulators green-lighted the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis market.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) approved 34 conditional licenses and agreed that seven of the state’s ten medical cannabis companies begin sales, possibly within weeks, following a series of setbacks and 17 months after New Jerseyans chose to legalize the use of recreational cannabis in a ballot measure.
The process, which was quite frustrating not only for cannabis entrepreneurs, such as Boris Jordan — the founder and chairman of Curaleaf Holdings, one of the companies which have been given the green light to sell recreational marijuana — but also for lawmakers like New Jersey Senate president Nick Scutari (D).
Nick Scutari’s Mission
He earlier called delays in rolling out the state’s legal marijuana market unacceptable, announcing his intentions to form a special legislative committee to explore the issue through oversight hearings.
While advocates are praising the move and with cannabis prohibition finally reaching its end, Scutari still plans to hold cannabis hearings, Heady NJ writes.
“I am happy progress has been made,” Scutari said. “I will move forward with legislative oversight hearings so we can get an understanding of the delays, the uncertainties, and any obstacles that hinder the full implementation of the cannabis law. The special committee will engage in a fact-finding process with a problem-solving mission. We need to find ways to continue the expansion of medical dispensaries to the recreational market and get the adult-use retail facilities up and running.”
Scutari emphasized the need to reduce costs of medical marijuana.
“Affordability and availability must be priorities for medical consumers who rely on cannabis for health reasons,” he added.
The senator also pointed out that ensuring the “availability of enough cannabis to meet the needs of both the medical and recreational markets” is also important.
Can Cannabis Operators Keep Up With Demand?
Interestingly, the state regulator rejected applications from eight medical cannabis operators in late March precisely on the grounds that, in the aggregate, cannabis operators in the state do not have enough capacity to serve the current medical market.
Despite the setbacks, Cantor Fitzgerald’s Pablo Zuanic expects recreational sales to begin in the Garden State by mid-May. He earlier questioned the “motivations/intentions of the CRC and constant delays.”
Dispensary owners say they can keep up with the demand from both medical and recreational users. During Monday’s commission meeting, one company even said they’d keep one of their facilities open for medical-use cannabis only, New Jersey Monitor writes.
Still, some of the state’s 130,000 medical marijuana patients are worried that the market will be congested with those buying recreational marijuana.
“I’m advising people to stock up now on their weed because I expect there to be a run on it,” said Peter Rosenfeld, a medical marijuana patient since 2011 and involved with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey and the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association.
“As soon as the first one opens up, medical patients won’t even be able to access it anymore,” Rosenfeld said.
He fears that thirteen dispensaries will not be enough to supply nearly 1 million new consumers. Marijuana dispensaries, called alternative treatment centers, are all owned by cannabis MSOs, are already facing challenges in keeping up with demand from medical patients.
While cannabis advocates and market operators have been proposing cannabis home grow to reduce the price of medical cannabis, Scutari “does not see it happening any time soon,” as he is more open to the idea of the industry’s success.
In the meantime, cannabis home-grow remains a felony in the Garden State, even though the legalization of adult-use sales and the decriminalization of possession of up to six ounces of cannabis have taken effect.
Banking & Social Equity Issues
“There are also issues of banking and social equity that should be reviewed,” Scutari said.
With congressional leaders appointing key lawmakers to discuss the final form of a large-scale bill dealing with innovation and manufacturing in recent days, there’s hope that it will be the vehicle to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
The U.S. House of Representatives formally attached a marijuana banking reform amendment from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to the COMPETES Act in February.
Following its latest and sixth attempt to get the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act across the finish line, Perlmutter, who is preparing to retire soon, said he is determined to continue putting pressure on his Senate colleagues to advance the bill.
There are signs of late that the bipartisan bill could be a focal point for negotiators, with Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, on Monday citing the legislation as one of her legislative “priorities.”
With midterm elections looming, the U.S. Senate seems to be far from passing SAFE Banking or social justice-focused MORE Act and President Joe Biden appears to be indifferent to marijuana, at least for now.