Top New Jersey Senator Plans Hearings On ‘Totally Unacceptable’ Marijuana Licensing Delays As Governor Urges Patience
New Jersey Senate President Nick Scutari (D) says that delays in rolling out the state’s adult-use marijuana market are unacceptable, and he will be forming a special legislative committee to explore the issue through oversight hearings.
There’s been a mix of feelings about the timeline for legalization implementation among stakeholders. As regulators have worked to approve the first round of licenses, some advocates have pushed for expediency while others feel it’s important not to rush the process to ensure that the industry that emerges is equitable and not dominated by large corporations.
But it has been nearly a year and a half since voters approved a legalization referendum at the ballot and the legislature passed implementation legislation. New Jersey regulators were expected to approve a first round of adult-use retail licenses for certain existing medical cannabis dispensaries last week, but they decided against it.
While Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has urged patience and insisted that the adult-use market will open within “weeks,” Scutari said in a press release on Tuesday that the “delays are totally unacceptable.”
The Senate president, who championed the recreational legalization implementation bill enacted last year, said he intends to form a bipartisan special committee and will be asking the Assembly to participate as well to make it a joint panel that will investigate the delayed rollout.
These delays are totally unacceptable. We need to get the legal marijuana market up and running in New Jersey. This has become a failure to follow through on the public mandate and to meet the expectations for new businesses and consumers. https://t.co/roZKoeHWOE
— Senate President Nick Scutari (@SenPresScutari) March 29, 2022
“We need to get the legal marijuana market up and running in New Jersey,” he said. “This has become a failure to follow through on the public mandate and to meet the expectations for new businesses and consumers.”
The oversight hearings will include “an accounting” regulators and “input from those operating cannabis businesses or waiting to get licensed, as well as others involved in the legal marijuana market,” the release from Scutari’s office says, adding that the committee’s membership and scheduling for hearings “will be worked out soon.”
A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said the body “shares the concerns of the Senate about the lack of momentum in getting New Jersey’s adult-use market established and off the ground.”
He added that if regulators do not make “significant progress” and achieve “clarity” on the issue at their next meeting on April 11, the Assembly will consider joining the Senate in holding oversight hearings.
Inbox: @SpeakerCoughlin “has not ruled out” joining the state senate in having legislative hearings regarding recreational cannabis rollout, as per spox. pic.twitter.com/CgI2qKA1rq
— Daniel Han (@danieljhan_) March 29, 2022
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) declined to approve existing dispensaries to start serving the adult-use market last week, but it did give conditional approval to 68 marijuana cultivators and manufacturers.
Murphy responded by asking people to remain patient as regulators sort through the complexities of creating the new market with an eye toward equity.
“It’s not going to be months,” Murphy said during a recent interview with News 12 New Jersey. “The way this is supposed to work—and it is working this way—[is] if a medical dispensary can prove it has more than enough supply for its medical customers, it’s at least eligible. And assuming it meets all the other requirements, including some municipal boxes to check, et cetera, it should be deemed eligible.”
“I believe it will still be a matter of weeks. It is not going to be months. I can’t tell you exactly a date. The commission is doing a great job,” the governor said. “I know everyone thinks it’s taken a long time. I understand that. In this case, as long as the now 127,000 medical patients across that whole system have their supplies satisfied, we should be able to go ahead—and we will go ahead.”
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The governor stressed that “equity is a huge part of our proposition here, and I know that may take longer than folks otherwise would like.”
CRC Commissioner Charles Barker said during last week’s meeting that those from disadvantaged communities, particularly people who have been disproportionately harmed under the policy of prohibition, need to “come hungry and ready…to step up and take your rightful seat at the table,” The Asbury Park Press reported.
Commissioner Krista Nash said that the body “recognizes the desire of the public to get the personal use market up and running, it is a shared responsibility to do so,” and their hope is that “the guidance the commission provides here today will move the process along so we can get these [dispensaries] open [for adult use] in a responsible manner that meets the needs of the patients and the personal use market.”
Some industry officials, meanwhile, are OK with the delay.
The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Edmund DeVeaux, for example, said in a statement that the group is pleased to see that regulators are “not rushing into the process and taking deliberate steps.”
“Doing things correctly was more important than doing things quickly,” he said. “New Jersey is on its way, and we look forward to the next round of progress.”
CRC Chair Dianna Houenou recently said that if the state were to open standalone adult-use shops right now, the industry would be “dominated” by large, multi-state operators.
Murphy, for his part, said that there are “lots of reasons” for the delayed rollout. That includes “equity and making sure we have an industry that looks like our state that is not just in words, but it is an action—a step tangibly toward undoing the damage from the war on drugs.”
“That’s that’s easier said than done,” he said. “We want to get more right than any other state.”
U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) recently criticized New Jersey regulators about the diversity issue, saying he’s “outraged” over the lack of minority representation in the industry.
The governor said last week that it would be weeks and not months before adult-use sales start, but he also said the same thing last month. At the time, he also stated that he would be “open-minded” to permitting adults to grow their own marijuana for personal use down the line, but that it would take action by the legislature. The governor similarly talked about being open to home grow late last year.
He’s also recently touted the fact that the courts have expunged more than 362,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when a decriminalization law took effect that mandated the relief for people who have been caught up in prohibition enforcement.
Earlier this month, CRC also held a series of public meetings where it received feedback on how best to allocate marijuana tax revenue after the recreational market opens.
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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.