Vote on NJ legal pot sales delayed, pushing start to May or later
TRENTON – State regulators put off a planned vote Thursday on allowing some medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling to recreational users, which likely delays the start of legal adult-use sales until at least mid-May and possibly into summer.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission had been scheduled to consider expanding the scope of eight medical marijuana companies that had applied. But in a surprise, the commission shelved the vote after staff reported that they still had a list of concerns that hadn’t been met by the applicants.
Chief among them are the supply of marijuana and access for medical patients once the general public is welcomed at the dispensaries. Jeff Brown, the CRC’s executive director, said the industry is about 100,000 pounds short of the amount of cannabis that would be needed to handle both.
Brown said the CRC is going to advocate that the alternative treatment centers prioritize medical patients by providing them exclusive hours, phone lines and home delivery so they can avoid the expected crowds.
“I’m extremely confident in our ability collaboratively, the CRC and the industry, to fix these issues and work together to get this market off the ground quickly,” Brown said.
“While we may not be 100% there today, we can get there,” he said.
The commission also approved 68 conditional licenses for adult-use marijuana businesses that will grow cannabis and manufacture it into retail products. Business groups focused on that positive step amid the disappointment about the delay in sales at ATCs.
“Doing things correctly was more important than doing things quickly,” said Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association. “New Jersey is on its way, and we look forward to the next round of progress.”
The New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association said in a statement that it is disappointed but remains optimistic.
“In November 2020, New Jerseyans made it very clear that they wanted a safe and legal adult-use cannabis marketplace in the state. It goes without saying that no one could have foreseen that some 16 months later, we would still be waiting to see this come to fruition,” the group said. “When it comes down to it, it’s New Jersey’s citizens who are missing out.”
The commission voted 5-0 to put off the vote on expanding the medical dispensaries.
“It is clear that we are not quite ready to open up the adult-use market in New Jersey,” said Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso. “Our medical patients are our priority, and we would like to prevent to the extent possible any supply shortages, long wait times and other safety concerns that may impact the municipalities in which these dispensaries are located.”
“We don’t want to rush this and get it wrong,” said Commissioner Charles Barker. “We are working appropriately – not slowly, but appropriately to advance a marketplace that is developed as right as possible.”
“While the commission recognizes the desire of the public to get the personal-use market up and running, it is a shared responsibility to do so,” said Commissioner Krista Nash. “The requirements that are set forth in the rules, they must be adhered to by all applicants and not just some.”
CRC staff members are supposed to visit the eight medical dispensaries over the next two weeks to talk through the remaining issues. Commission chairwoman Dianna Houenou said she wanted updates in hopes of a quick launch once any deficiencies are rectified.
“I do sincerely hope that our ATCs will work with the CRC staff to understand the steps that they need to take to become ready,” Houenou said. “I’m encouraged that the staff are ready to do a little extra hand-holding where it is needed.”
The CRC wasn't scheduled to meet again until May 24. Sales aren't expected to start until 30 days after ATCs get the OK, which would have pushed the start date until late June at the earliest.
On Thursday evening, the CRC scheduled a special meeting for April 11, six weeks sooner than had been planned. Vice chairman Sam Delgado had urged that such a meeting be considered, if the ATCs cured the shortfalls identified by the state.
“Because at the end of the day, the personal-use cannabis market is not open here in New Jersey," Delgado said.