New Jersey’s newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission met for the first time Monday to kick off its “work to ensure a fair and equitable adult-use and medical cannabis marketplace in the state of New Jersey.”
In November, voters in the state passed a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adult use, and, as Cannabis Wire reported, after intense debate among lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy on the bill to implement the voters’ will, Murphy signed the legislation in February.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve finally arrived at this historic day,” said Dianna Houenou, who Chairs the six-member Commission, on Monday. “Our journey to this point is no small matter. It was a journey that included many faces from across the state, elected officials, stakeholders, advocates and community organizers alike. And it ultimately included 2.7 million voters who changed our Constitution.”
“But,” Houenou continued, “this journey started with the countless people with lived experiences who raised their voices and showed us all that our marijuana prohibition policies were actively harming individuals and communities.”
Houenou, a former Senior Policy Advisor and Associate Counsel in the Governor’s Office, emphasized that getting the Commission fully up and running “will take time,” as the process of hiring additional staff and developing procedures could “take us several weeks.”
Along these lines, much of the first meeting involved foundational housekeeping, such as electing Commissioner Sam Delgado, a retired Verizon executive, as Vice Chair and passing a resolution to transfer the state’s medical cannabis program from the Department of Health to the Commission. The Commission, though, chose to postpone until its next meeting the consideration of a resolution to adopt a schedule that set out its meetings for 2021, of which there would be another ten through December. Their concern was that the proposed meeting time of 10:30 a.m. would make it difficult for many members of the public to participate.
No public comment was heard during the first meeting, though Houenou said that the Commission has already received fifty comments by email, which will be made public.
Executive Director Jeff Brown gave a brief report on the status of the state’s medical cannabis program, in which just under 107,000 patients can obtain products from 15 open shops, and the changes on the horizon that the Commission will “inherit.” Brown previously oversaw the state’s medical cannabis program as Assistant Commissioner at the Department of Health.
“We need lower prices and better value for patients. We continue to work on that and there’s a lot more to do. We also need more accessible locations, more dispensaries,” Brown said, “specifically those committed to operating in a more competitive market.”
Brown said that the Commission’s success depends, in his view, on its work in three areas: staffing and infrastructure, regulation, and business permitting and licensing.
“We do have some challenges,” Brown continued. “There’s uneven readiness and action in our current cannabis industry. There are some of our alternative treatment centers who are moving full speed ahead and others are not. And in order to launch a legal market on the backbone of our current industry, we would really need to see action across the board.”
Another obstacle, Brown said, is “a growing prevalence of municipal bans,” adding that he urges those considering bans to wait until the regulations, which will take months to craft, are released.
The issue of local bans came up during an event last week that was focused on cannabis and real estate, during which Houenou spoke, along with regulators from New York and Connecticut, as Cannabis Wire reported. And so, too, did the need for regional collaboration, which Brown also emphasized on Monday.
“We are going to rely on doing this together. We’re going to rely on best practices, whether they come from Oregon or Colorado or New York or New Jersey,” Brown said.
The meeting concluded with adoption of a plan of organization and a logo.