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NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission Focuses on Cannabis Labeling

The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) focused on cannabis labeling and packaging issues during its fifth meeting.

CRC Chair Diana Houenou explained the CRC is working hard to develop rules for the adult-use cannabis market for its August 21st deadline.

“Writing regulations is hefty work,” she said, noting the tight deadlines. Houenou said they might make revisions as they hear from the public.

Cannabis Regulatory Commission Progress

Houenou explained the rules would be in effect for a year when the CRC can adopt or amend them. There will be a process establishing the long-term rules of the market through the ordinary rulemaking process, which can take many months up to a year.

While there will be rules on every action identified in the legalization law eventually, she noted certain rules are being prioritized.

“If a particular subject matter isn’t included in our initial rules, that does not mean that the CRC is not going to or address that subject matter,” Houenou said. “We want to give due consideration to every issue that needs to be addressed.”

She noted that $15 million has gone to the Department of Law and Public Safety to handle the influx of new expungement work. The State Police united focused on expunging people has grown from 11 to 85 people.

Houenou called it tremendous progress.

She explained they’ve also automated the process, which will seal records immediately upon receipt of eligibility.

Houenou noted the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent expungement of certain cannabis cases. The Judiciary will now provide Attorney General’s office with a list of eligible cases and the State Police and counties, and locals to erase records.

“Expungements were a critical component of the campaign to legalize cannabis,” Houenou said, calling it a priority for the Murphy Administration.

Medical Cannabis Progress

CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown noted there are now 113,413 patients, 4,337 active caregivers, and 13,000 providing doctors. He noted the medical cannabis program is gaining 2,5000 patients a month. But 1,000-2,000 patients are losing eligibility, slowing the program’s growth.

Brown noted writing the regulations is their top priority, along with the 2019 ATC license issue.

“Trust me, we want to get this done as quickly as we can,” he said. “Scoring is ongoing but close to wrapping up.”

Brown explained that the 2019 awards will be voted on at a public commission meeting.

Many are anxious to see the now 24-month process over. A lawsuit stalled by COVID has delayed it.

Cannabis Labeling and Packaging Issues

Brown noted a lot needs to be done and said cannabis labeling needs to be clear and truthful. He explained that New Jersey cannabis labeling and packages cannot look like a parody of a popular brand. Those are popular in the underground market. In addition, it can’t have cartoons color schemes, graphics, or features that would make cannabis labeling attractive to children.

Brown said he asked their investigators to review all the packaging in medical cannabis. A few had to be denied. He noted the legalization law lays a lot of rules on labeling. That includes prohibiting a child on a label, mascots, or cartoon characters from being used. Packaging should be child-resistant.

“Proper labeling is the lynchpin for successful evidence-based cannabis regs. It represents the final endpoint of numerous regulatory processes,” said Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) (who is part of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform coalition where I represent the Latino Action Network, full disclosure).

He said the DFRCR found existing standards poor. So they developed a model for the CRC and New Jersey, including a thorough amount of product information.

Nathan proposed they should put QR codes on the label. Consumers could view the authenticity and link to more information describing the information that can’t fit on a package.

Cannabis Symbols

He said they reviewed the various cannabis symbols in the state market, which he criticized. Nathan said they should use his design. It consisted of a black cannabis leaf in a yellow triangle.

Nina Parks of the San Francisco Oversight Committee said complying with elaborate packaging requirements might be difficult for those seeking to enter the legal market. It could be costly.

She said it was a nightmare in California that cannabis labeling requirements changed four times. It hurt many small operators because they couldn’t spend $20,000 on minor label changes.

Park said they should not burden small business equity applicants with many difficult compliance requirements. Larger corporations can eat the costs more easily.

While some said they should use opaque packaging, she argued against it. Someone could pay more for an older product since they couldn’t tell how old it was.

“All use is medicinal use,” she said, noting many are self-medicating to treat an ailment.

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