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New Jersey Begins Accepting Applications for Recreational Cannabis Licenses

New Jersey finally began accepting applications for recreational cannabis licenses in December 2015. According to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, (CRC), 500 applicants had submitted applications within four hours. 635 accounts were created at the end.

“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.

After Governor Phil Murphy signed three cannabis bills in February, CRC set up the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans and Women Business Development. This was to keep the promise of support for 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. These are areas where an individual earns 80 percent or less from the state median household income ($90 444). They also have an uninsured rate that is one to one and a half times the rates across the state.

To discuss details of this process, CRC organized a New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference. It was held in Atlantic City between November and December. Dianna, Chair of the CRC was there. Houenou stated that all accepted applications will be granted either a conditional license or an 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 spoke out about the importance of conditional licenses 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.” 

Although there are promises that recreational cannabis licenses will be granted to all, concerns have been raised about medical cannabis grower licensing. 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 this 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 was a former NBA player and the owner of Viola Brands. He was among those minority applicants who did not get a New Jersey license. Harrington’s application writer, Jamil Taylor explained to NJ.comIt is difficult for Black-owned cannabis businesses to expand in this 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.”