New Jersey has been gearing up to open its first adult-use cannabis shops next week, but it now seems certain that state regulators will miss this deadline. This delay is a bummer for Garden State stoners who are ready to cop some top-shelf bud, but it's even worse news for legal weed businesses that are already harvesting their first crops.
Last February, Governor Phil Murphy signed three long-delayed bills that officially legalized the adult-use cannabis industry that voters approved back in 2020. These new laws decriminalized the possession of up to six ounces of weed, expunged over 362,000 pot convictions, and set up the rules for taxed and regulated weed sales. The regulatory law set a deadline of February 22nd, 2022 for adult-use sales to begin.
But although regulators had a full year to prepare, they still haven’t finalized the regulations. The law requires the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to give 30 days' notice before legal sales can begin, but the agency has yet to do so. New adult-use businesses will not be able to start planting pot seeds until they receive their licenses, and once they do receive this approval, it still takes at least six months for cannabis plants to fully mature.
“I think that the CRC are working diligently to open the adult-use market,” said Shaya Brodchandel, President of New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA) and CEO of the Harmony Dispensary, to TAPinto. “I don’t know how far off it will be, but it seems like that deadline won’t be made at this point.”
"At the end of the day, this is an agricultural business,” Brodchandel added. “You see the fruits of it about 6 months later. So to plant a seed to go the cultivating, the harvesting, the packaging, the testing, it takes months and months to get there. Not having a clear indication as to when that date will come, you’ll start having inventory issues, their stockpiling, employment issues, supply issues that all [effect] the launch of this market."
Existing medical marijuana cultivators will also be allowed to grow weed for the adult-use market, once they receive the appropriate licenses. In anticipation of legal sales, eight of the state's 12 licensed medical growers have applied to serve the adult-use market, and some of these companies have already planted acres of fresh cannabis crops in order to meet the expected demand for legal pot. But now that the sales date has been pushed back, this fresh bud may end up rotting on the shelf.
“I hate to say this, but we may have to start destroying product, and we may have to start potentially letting people go because part of the anticipation is you ramp up your staffing, as well,” James Leventis, an executive for Verano New Jersey, a medical cannabis cultivator that has applied to grow recreational pot, told NJ Advance Media.
In addition to receiving licenses from the state, prospective adult-use businesses also require approval from their local municipalities. This has turned out to be another major sticking point, as nearly two-thirds of Garden State towns and cities have voted to ban local weed companies. State regulators are also delaying licensing even further in order to finalize social equity licenses that can help minority-owned businesses get a share of this lucrative market.
“The direction seems to be going in social equity and justice” for “communities that have been underserved,” explained Brodchandel to TAPinto. “Prioritizing licensing for them is something that is going to benefit the communities tremendously. Giving them opportunities for local business entrepreneurs who have been impacted by the war on drugs and now being able to benefit from this industry is really important."
Other East Coast states are trying to avoid similar situations by baking huge delays into their timelines. Virginia's adult-use law puts off legal sales until 2024, and New York has already pushed back its deadline until late 2023. Connecticut, on the other hand, apparently has its act together and is already accepting licenses for legal weed businesses.