Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey announced the imminent launch of the state’s regulated recreational cannabis market, saying retail sales could begin “within weeks.” The announcement came after regulators missed last Tuesday’s self-imposed deadline for adult-use cannabis sales to start.
“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 said on his WBGO Newark radio show, as quoted by NJ.com. “They’ve got to prove they’ve got the supply for their medical customers. I hope shortly thereafter, the standalone recreational marijuana operators.”
New Jersey voters legalized adult-use cannabis in the November 2020 general election with the approval of Question 1, a ballot measure that passed with 67 percent of the vote. The law set a September 2021 deadline for the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to begin accepting applications for business licenses.
However, the agency missed the deadline and instead announced that they were establishing the process to accept the applications. On December 15, the CRC began accepting applications for cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs. Applications for recreational cannabis retailers are scheduled to launch on March 15.
Regulators Miss Deadline for Retail Sales
The legislation also mandated that legal sales of recreational cannabis begin by mid-February of this year or within six months after the commission adopted its initial regulations. But in September, Murphy said that the launch of adult-use sales would also likely be delayed. Sales will first begin in the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries, which now serve 120,000 registered patients, followed by retailers licensed to sell only recreational cannabis.
“First or second quarter from a medical dispensary, and then a little bit behind that from a standalone retail shop,” the governor said at the time. “I think there’s a very good chance, assuming the medical dispensaries can prove that they’ve got enough supply for their patients, that they’ll be able to participate in the adult use of cannabis before there are actually retail establishments independently set up, but this is coming.”
Eight of the 10 companies operating New Jersey’s 23 medical marijuana dispensaries have applied for licenses to sell adult-use cannabis. CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said on Thursday that five of those applications had been deemed “complete and are in substantive review.”
Last month, Brown reported that several factors were delaying the approval of licenses to sell recreational cannabis, including approval from local authorities. Under the state’s regulations, municipalities must approve a medical cannabis dispensary’s bid to begin serving adult-use cannabis consumers.
“One of the biggest deficiencies we’re seeing is a lack of municipal approval,” Brown said at a meeting in January. “That’s an issue, and supply continues to be an issue. It’s the priority of the CRC to get recreational sales started as soon as we can, but we have to do it in a way that’s compliant with the law. We need the industry to get there.”
But medical cannabis operators, including Curaleaf northeast regional president Patrik Jonsson, criticized the CRC’s slow pace of approving licenses. Some companies have said that they may have to lay off employees and destroy expiring product if the recreational cannabis market does not open soon.
“They’re so concerned with getting it perfect, and it’s unfortunate because I think you’re losing a lot of opportunities,” Jonsson told USA TODAY Network New Jersey last month.
Murphy noted on Wednesday that the process of legalizing cannabis in New Jersey, which was a featured issue during his 2017 gubernatorial campaign, has been difficult and is taking longer than he expected. But, the governor said, it is “better to be right than fast.”
“And God willing, that’s what we’re gonna get,” Murphy added.