Regulators in New Jersey on Tuesday moved to award 30 new licenses for new medical cannabis dispensaries, a significant expansion of a program that has seen slow growth.
The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission voted to “more than [double] the number of retail locations for a growing pool of patients who for years complained about long commutes to obtain legal cannabis,” NJ.com reported.
The regulatory panel distributed the 30 licenses evenly throughout the Garden State, awarding “10 each in the central, northern and southern regions of the state,” according to the website.
The expansion will result in a significant uptick to the 23 dispensaries currently serving patients throughout the state. Those stores serve “an average of 5,300 patients per retail site,” NJ.com reported, and there “are about 5,000 patients enrolling every month—a pace that has not abated even with the prospect of a legal market for adult users opening in 2022.”
In October, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission “accepted the recommendation to approve 14 of the 2019 medicinal cannabis business applications that had been previously held up due to a court-ordered stay of the review process,” with “10 applications for cultivation permits and four applications for vertically integrated permits” approved to “begin preparations to serve New Jersey’s medicinal cannabis patients.” Due to increased patient need, “five more cultivation permits were awarded than had been planned in 2019,” the commission said.
“The current alternative treatment centers have not kept pace with patient need,” said Dianna Houenou, the chairwoman of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. “We constantly hear from patients that prices are too high and that there are too few dispensaries with too few product options. The situation has not changed with the legalization of recreational cannabis. Our priority is to our patients and increasing the planned number of medicinal cannabis operators in the market will greatly benefit them.”
Last year, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment at the ballot legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults. NJ.com reported that while the 30 licenses approved on Tuesday are for medical cannabis dispensaries, if those businesses so choose, “they will have a head start in expanding their customer base to adults 21 and over once the legal market opens some time in 2022.”
Despite the voters’ approval of the amendment, “a bill outlining the legitimate market did not reach Governor Phil Murphy’s desk until February,” the website explained, and the commission “did not introduce the first round of regulations needed to run until August.”
The commission “will start accepting applications for the adult-use market from cultivators, manufacturers and testing labs for the recreational market on December 15, and from dispensaries on March 15,” according to the website.
In February, Murphy signed a bill officially ending the prohibition on pot in New Jersey.
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible,” Murphy said in a statement after signing the legislation into law.
“This November, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of creating a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model.”
The new law, Murphy said, “will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities, while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters.”