When adult use sales begin in New Jersey — which, according to the governor, will be in a matter of “weeks” — the products will look a bit different.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission held a meeting on Thursday during which regulators gave licensing updates, talked about concerns related to cannabis smoke and air quality, and fielded testimony and questions from residents. Regulators also approved a resolution to adopt a universal symbol for cannabis packaging.
New Jersey voters said “yes” to cannabis legalization on Election Day in 2020. In early 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill to allow for the launch of the industry. And, on Wednesday night, Murphy said during a radio interview that the state could be “within weeks” of allowing existing medical license holders to also serve adults 21 and older.
“If I had to predict, we are within weeks — I would hope in March — you would see implicit movement on the medical dispensaries, some of them being able to sell recreational,” Murphy told Newark’s WBGO. “They’ve got to prove they’ve got the supply for their medical customers. I hope shortly thereafter, the standalone recreational marijuana operators.”
On Thursday afternoon, Dianna Houenou gave a Chair’s report, during which she indicated that some cannabis entrepreneurs are getting out ahead of the rules.
“I am concerned that some people,” Houenou said, “may be jumping the gun a little bit with respect to what they think will be outcomes of this industry, instead of waiting for the established processes to be completed.”
Houenou added, “We have held several meetings with legacy operators, both nationally and at the state level, to talk about how best to support those in the legacy market who want to transition into the regulated space.”
Regulators have a mandate to put equity applicants — or those who live in economically disadvantaged areas, have “certified” businesses owned by women or disabled veterans, or those who have prior cannabis convictions — at the front of the review line.
“We want to see New Jersey’s industry reflect the diversity of our state. We want to see racial and ethnic inclusion among our business owners and workforce. We want to see businesses small, medium and large, and we want to see businesses spread out across the state, from Cape May county to the far reaches of the Delaware water gap,” Houenou said.
Jeff Brown, executive director of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, gave updates about the adult use rules and licensing process, including cultivator and manufacturer applications, an update to previous awards for Alternative Treatment Centers, or medical cannabis shops in New Jersey.
“We really stand at a crossroads here, an important one,” Brown said, referencing other important moments for regulators, starting when the legalization law was signed, for example, and when the commission was formed last April.
Regulators, he said, are “moving through hundreds of applications, and are ready to really kick off this legalized market under an entirely new framework.”
“We are moving through applications on a rolling basis. But according to priority conditional applicants, that’s applicants that meet certain income thresholds and other requirements, get reviewed first and foremost, and social equity business applications get reviewed at the top of the heap,” Brown said. “We are making tremendous progress.”
Brown said that regulators need, on average, around 90 days to read applications. He added that regulators will “likely” need more time as applications pile up. Among what regulators are sifting through: criminal history background check, which could benefit an applicant if one of those charges is cannabis-related. Regulators are also looking for compliance, including looking at social equity applicants’ materials to shield them, if possible, from “predatory” practices.
Assembly member Shavonda Sumter testified as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, in partnership with the Legislative Black Caucus and the Asian American Caucus of the New Jersey General Assembly, a group that has 34 members. Sumter described “mounting distrust and shaken confidence our caucuses have in the creation of a new adult use cannabis industry.”
Existing medical cannabis operators are eager to go live, but at the last CRC meeting, Brown said that he noticed “major deficiencies” in those applications, namely that they lacked local municipal approval. During Thursday’s meeting, Brown said that eight of New Jersey’s existing medical cannabis operators have applied to sell adult use cannabis, five of which are considered “complete” and are now under “substantive review.” Regulators have repeatedly said that the biggest considerations for allowing a medical operator to shift to adult use has to do with whether they have “adequate supply” to serve both patients and adult consumers, and that they have local approval.
“There must be intentional steps taken as we move forward with the integration of medical license holders,” Sumter said. “We will continue to monitor your work and amplify concerns, as received, for timely responses to remediate. We don’t want time to pass with us not having a conversation on those concerns raised by the public. We are committed to working with the commission to ensure that all communities are getting a fair final chance.”
Much of the discussion and public comment from this point centered around consumption spaces and potential for cannabis activities to cause air pollution.
Kashawn Mckinley, director of constituent services for Atlantic City, spoke during a public comment period and described the jurisdiction as not only the state’s center of convention events, but the anchor for these types of events on the entire east coast.
“Cannabis is an entirely new industry that will be driven by conventions. Atlantic City needs special provisions to capitalize on this market. Stand alone consumption lounges both indoor and outdoor are needed,” McKinley said.
Suzaynn Schick, a professor of medicine at University of California, San Franscico who studies the health effects of air pollution in humans, was invited to speak about research she’s worked on related to cannabis events. Schick specifically shared data from air that she and her team studied both in cannabis shops and at the annual harvest festival.
“Safe levels of exposure are extremely low,” Schick said, adding that some consumers might believe that cannabis smoke is less harmful than tobacco smoke or vehicular pollution.
“Do the cannabinoids somehow make it safer or better for us, less dangerous? That’s still an open question,” Schick said. “If there isn’t enough cannabinoids in there to have any psychoactive effects, there is unlikely to be enough cannabinoids in a secondhand cannabis smoke exposure to have a therapeutic effect that counters the danger posed just by having tiny particles of any reactive chemical inhaling into your lungs. All you’re getting with the second hand exposure is smoke.”
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, chair of the Cannabis Commission Committee of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association, a collection of mayors throughout the state that focus on issues relating to urban constituencies, also spoke about consumption spaces, a policy area that Warren said is “very important” to the organization.
“It deals with our workforce, our children and places where we bring our families,” Warren said, adding that the group has asked regulators to consider the policies that come with the Smoke Free Air Act in New Jersey, which covers tobacco smoking and vaping, “with the added feature in this case of having some barrier that’s going to be sensitive to the fact that children may be in the space as well and could possibly inhale a substance that legally they’re not able to do.”
The next meeting will be held on March 24. In the meantime, the CRC will host three virtual meetings to solicit public “suggestions” on how funds collected related to cannabis fees and fines should be allocated toward “social equity projects.” Those meetings will be March 2, 9, and 16.