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NJ-CRC, EDA Announce 1st NJ Cannabis Grant Winners

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJ-CRC) announced the expanded Phase I NJ cannabis grants winners.

Access to capital is the largest hurdle stopping most New Jersey cannabis license entrepreneurs.

In this first “Joint Ventures” NJ cannabis grants phase, the NJEDA awarded $250,000 to 48 New Jersey cannabis company recipients. Initially, only 24 were going to be awarded in this round.

According to the NJEDA, half of the 48 grants of 12 million going to the NJ cannabis grant winners are minority-owned. About 14 are women-owned. Twelve are both. 

The program started at $10 million for the two phases.

When the first portal opened, far more applicants applied than could be accommodated.

NJEDA Chief Community Development Officer Tai Cooper explained the second NJ cannabis grants application portal is opening in November for Social Equity applicants. The $4 million program was doubled to $8 million and will go to 48 Social Equity candidates.

“We do want to level the playing field however we can,” she said. “This is literally going to change people’s lives.”

They’re eager to track the NJ cannabis grants money and establish a larger revolving fund.

The NJEDA and Access to Capital

“The only thing we’re missing is the Ed Mc Mahon-sized check,” NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan joked.

NJ-CRC NJ cannabis grants

He said they are focused on economic diversification and helping small businesses.

“We don’t talk enough about cannabis and the huge opportunities that this industry represents to create jobs and prosperity,” Sullivan admitted.

He said every industry has its highs and lows.

“I want to see how many bad dad jokes I can make,” Sullivan said.

“It is not easy to be a small business owner when the sun is shining, and the wind is at you’re back, and you’re not trying to start up in an industry that’s not used to being legal,” he noted.

Sullivan noted the small size of their pilot program.

“Let’s not spread the peanut butter too thin,” he argued.

Sullivan wanted to see the NJ cannabis grant winners open.

“These are the biggest grants in the country. Governor Murphy is pretty competitive. We want … to have the biggest grants in the country for the cannabis industry,” he said.

Leveling the New Jersey Cannabis Market

“Access to capital is a challenge for small businesses, particularly for minority small businesses in every sector all the time,” Sullivan noted.

He explained some get loans to solve the issue.

“When people of means want to start a business, they often go to their friends and family. But not everybody has friends and family with a couple of hundred thousand dollars lying around,” Sullivan explained. “It’s risky. But Governor Murphy, the legislature, and the people of New Jersey are going to be your friends and family,” Sullivan said to applause.

He said he worked with Governor Phil Murphy (D) and the legislature to find money to increase the number of grants from 24 to 48 in this round.

“We’re just getting warmed up. We’re here to stay and support the cannabis industry,” Sullivan declared.  “This is just the first chapter here.”

“This is delivering on the Governor’s …. and the CRC’s… commitment to equity and inclusion small businesses and doing this the right way and righting wrongs,” he declared.

“We are doing this well, and we are doing it right. We’re doing it in a way that gives meaningful opportunities,” NJ-CRC Chair Dianna Houenou said.

“Access to capital is always the most challenging hurdle to overcome,” she noted.

Houenou praised the NJ-EDA.

“It’s a remarkable achievement um that cannot be uh, overstated. Offering these grant awards sets New Jersey apart and sets us as an example of how states can provide financial support to canna entrepreneurs,” she explained.

Houenou noted the NJ-EDA has assisted the NJ-CRC in enacting “the vision of having a diverse and inclusive and equitable cannabis industry.”

“Without personal or family resources that have pointed to, many of our grant awardees uh may not have had been able to actually realize their vision,” she noted.

“We look forward to seeing more dollars injected into grants for local minority, women, and disabled veteran-owned businesses and Social Equity businesses that will create a cannabis market that is also socially and economically diverse,” Houenou declared.

“We’re so excited to see even more to come,” she added.

Progress Celebrated

“This is really a great day for the state of New Jersey,” Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly (LD-35) said.

He explained he has traveled across the country and seen the positive impact of cannabis.

“I want to make sure that … opportunities … are made available for the right folks,” Wimberly declared.

“It was a hard fight,” Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (LD-31) said of legalization. “We came together and made it work.”

“To have 48 recipients receive a grant. Oh my gosh, that is amazing,” she added to applause. “You doubled it from 24 to 48. That is amazing.”

The event took place at the upcoming NightJar dispensary in Bloomfield in Essex County. 

“We actually had to change our ordinance seven different time to make it work for as many businesses as possible,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia noted.

He explained 8 New Jersey adult use cannabis dispensaries are now allowed after they changed the rules.

Eight is a good amount for one town.

“76 percent of Bloomfield voters voted to legalize recreational cannabis,” Venezia declared. “Welcome to the township. We are very excited to be here today.”

“We’ll be even more excited to have you back when we open our doors officially by the end of the year,” Nightjar Holdings Chief Operator Officer Francesca DeRogatis said.

She said she was raised in West Orange and Mendham in New Jersey before entering the Massachusetts cannabis market.

DeRogatis noted that Nightjar’s majority owner, Rosana Diaz, lives in Colorado. She’s from New York and has family in Jersey City. DeRogatis and her family have some shares, too, along with others. Nightjar has several New England-based leaders.

“Raising capital is a challenge even for experienced operators like us,” DeRogatis admitted.

She noted few women and minorities receive venture capital.

Growing the New Jersey Cannabis Industry

Yerrr Canna LLC CEO James Jackson is seeking to open a microbusiness craft cultivator in West Orange.

He lives in West Orange after going to high school in South Brunswick.

“I had no clue what I was getting into,” Jackson admitted regarding cannabis. “I didn’t know the barriers at every turn.”

“You’re doing something that’s never been done before,” he noted. “The biggest barrier for entrepreneurs is absolutely capital.”

“There should be legacy operators flourishing throughout this industry,” Jackson added.

The winners present included cannabis manufacturer TJ Jadhav of Mojo Botanica, Haytham Elgawly of Xenia Dispensary in Jersey City, Jill Cohen of the CannaBoss Lady dispensary in Maplewood, Alan Ao who is opening Vigor dispensary in Matawan, Darin Chandler who is opening a dispensary in Keyport, and Julisa Bonilla of the Cannabotique by Greenhouse in Jersey City.

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