The state of New Jersey has finally begun to accept applications for recreational cannabis licenses on December 15. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) announced that within the first four hours of applications opening, 500 people had already submitted their applications, with 635 accounts created by the end of the day.
“We are happy to reach this milestone,” said Jeff Brown, CRC executive director. “Applications are coming in, the platform is performing well, and we can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry. Getting cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs licensed and operating will set the framework and establish supply for retailers who will start licensing in March 2022.”
The CRC also noted that highest priority would be given to “Social Equity Businesses, diversely-owned businesses, microbusinesses, and conditional license applicants” when being reviewed. This includes applicants who were previously convicted for cannabis crimes, live in “economically disadvantaged areas” or fit the criteria of minority, women or disabled-veteran owned businesses.
Following Governor Phil Murphy signing three cannabis bills earlier this year in February, the CRC created the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Business Development in order to follow through with the promise of supporting diversity. A category was specifically created for Social Equity Business applicants as well, which includes “people who have lived in an economically disadvantaged area or who have convictions for cannabis-related offenses. Those areas are defined as places where individuals earn 80 percent or less of the state median household income ($90,444), and also have an uninsured rate of one to one-and-a-half times more than rates throughout the state, according to NJ.com.
The CRC held a New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City in mid-November to discuss the details of this process. There, CRC Chair Dianna Houenou confirmed that accepted applications with either be granted a conditional or annual license.
“The annual license is the bread and butter of what we typically think of when someone is applying for a license. It gives business owners the authority to operate the cannabis operation year round,” said Houenou. “The conditional license is meant to give applicants extra time to get all of their ducks in a row… They then have 120 days to meet the additional requirements for the annual license.”
Houenou also spoke about how conditional license applications would be prioritized over annual licenses. “If you look across the country, historically you can see how the need for property control has posed a barrier for a number of applicants looking to operate [a cannabis] business… We decided to lessen that burden as much as we could.”
Despite the promises of fair consideration for diversity for recreational cannabis licensing, there has been some concern about considerations for the medical cannabis grower licenses recently. According to NJ Advance Media, most of the recently awarded licenses went to white women, leading some applicants to question if they actually received any extra “points” for being a minority applicant during the scoring process. Brown addressed the concern. “In the eight months since the CRC was established, we have completed key tasks started under the Department of Health to increase supply and provide additional access for patients in the medicinal market,” he said. “Now we have begun accepting recreational cannabis business applications under our new rules which prioritize equity.”
Al Harrington, former NBA athlete and owner of Viola Brands was one of the minority applicants that did not receive a New Jersey license. Harrington’s application writer, Jamil Taylor explained to NJ.com how difficult it is for Black-owned businesses to grow in the cannabis space. “It’s sad how they’ve structured the process, but that goes to show how valuable these licenses are,” Taylor said. “They’re limiting vertical integration, but they’ve already given vertical integration to the majority white companies.”