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NJCRC Holds Virtual Town Hall on Jersey Cannabis Licenses

The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) held a virtual town hall on problems obtaining Jersey cannabis licenses, where they spoke frankly about problems and progress.

“I’m so excited about this conversation,” NJCRC Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso said. “Your feedback today will help us understand some of the challenges applicants are facing.”

She wanted to know about the successes and setbacks of applicants making progress in the process.

Del Cid-Kosso noted the NJCRC had approved 338 conversions from conditional licenses to the annual Jersey cannabis licenses needed to open and 176 annual licenses that didn’t need to convert, for a total of 514. Of those, 240 licensed cannabis companies are operational.

“This market will only continue to grow and develop into a national model,” she declared.

Del Cid-Kosso explained that if people make good suggestions, she can make recommendations for changes that the NJCRC could adopt.

She added they want to be more transparent.

“I’m really excited to hear from you all,” NJCRC Chair Dianna Houenou said.

New Jersey Cannabis License Process Changes Made Already

She explained they have already improved the New Jersey cannabis licensing process.

Initially, when they were first getting up and had fewer staffers, it took a while to process the first batch of applications. Now, they are more responsive to applicant issues.

For example, Houenou explained they created an application hotline so you can talk to a staffer. They also increased the number of licensing unit and compliance unit staffers reviewing applications.

“That has led to faster processing and lower applicant wait times,” he explained.

Houenou added they are aware of the many conditional license holders who need more time to convert or they might fail. Also, annual license winners are still having trouble opening too.

They also promised to help them in 2022.

So, some deadlines have been extended for conditional license holders and eliminated for annuals.

“We also have upcoming changes to the applicant portal to have better application status information,” Houenou said.

“While we are required to operate within the parameters of state laws and regulations, the ideas may be used to improve the Commission’s processes,” she explained.

“We will not answer applicant-specific questions,” Del Cid-Kosso added.

Noted attorney and advocate Scheril Murray Powell praised the website and outreach to underground legacy operators. She also said she wanted to advocate for sacramental Rastafari cannabis incorporated into the cannabis program and market.

“What are we gonna be doing to hold these townships accountable? A lot of (underground) legacy operators can’t get into the game. They’re afraid of going to the municipalities and applying because these municipalities aren’t giving a chance to no one,” Carlos Almanzar explained.

He noted he has had issues getting approval in South Tom’s River in Ocean County on an application where his mother is the majority owner.

Interestingly, Almanzar was especially conservative when complaining about a dispensary close to an ice cream shop since kids like ice cream. Even cannabis legalization opponents and skeptics who don’t want it near homes, schools, colleges, daycares, parks, or churches rarely say ice cream shops.

Distance requirements like that are hurting entrepreneurs like himself.

Others complained about shady town deals needed to get approval to open.

Explaining Issues and Admitting Problems

The NJCRC Commissioners seemed eager to engage with him and a few others.

Del Cid-Kosso noted they recently provided a list of pro-cannabis towns.

It remains a work in progress.

“The (cannabis legalization law) CREAMMA gives us limited bandwidth on what we can say to municipalities,” she admitted.

Del Cid-Kosso explained they launched a public awareness campaign urging caution on cannabis.

“We also require for all dispensaries to ask for an ID to ask if the consumer is 21 and up,” she added.

“The Commission, the NJCRC, is limited in what we can do with respect to the towns. We do talk to municipal officials and encourage them any chance we can to ensure they’re lowering barriers,” Houenou explained.

“They’re just leaving these pockets for unregulated operators to pop up,” he argued.

Houenou encouraged him to refer municipal officials to them to learn more.

Funding Issues Discussed

“The state process for cannabis licenses has been well structured,” Edwin Perez said. “I loved that you connected with the EDA (NJ Economic Development Authority).”

“Traditional funding options are nearly impossible to obtain,” he noted.

Perez also noted towns often favor large corporate Multi-State Operators (MSOs). He wanted towns to commit to prioritization the NJCRC has implemented to favor those hurt by the War on Drugs, minorities, and women in the licensing process.

Perez had challenges with towns where every single application process can be very different. He said the Green Zones issues are difficult when stores are only allowed in industrial districts.

“Cannabis entrepreneurs still need more access to capital,” Perez said.

He said he wanted a loan with no or low interest.

The EDA has said making those available is their long-term goal.

Medical Cannabis Program Inventory Tracking Issues

Tim Wiggins of Valley Wellness noted the NJCRC requires them to maintain two different inventories in the inventory tracking software program Metrc.

“It requires twice as much work,” he complained.

Wiggins noted the need to prioritize medical cannabis patients.

“There are better ways of accomplishing this,” he argued.

Wiggins said they can develop procedures to streamline the process. But they needed the NJCRC to approve this before they could implement it.

Office of Diversity and Inclusion Director Wesley McWhite III said his audio quality was poor and requested written testimony.

Real Estate and Landlord Complaints

Fredrick Gilmore said he is having trouble getting a license.

“The trouble is in the real estate community. What is the CRC doing to educate the real estate community?” he asked.

Gilmore said underground legacy operators want to go legal but don’t know how to do so.

“What are you guys doing to help them get that information?” he asked.

He also complained about the deadlines imposed on conditional Jersey cannabis licenses.

“Working in a dispensary, I feel there’s not a lot of education. It’s more about what’s being sold. Can we get more education in the community?” Gilmore asked.

(That’s why HeadyNJ.com is a great resource to share!)

“The Commission as a government agency has limited authority in how landlords or property owners use their property or charge,” Houenou admitted.

“Everybody has a role to play in supporting the equity work the Commission is trying to do. We are keenly aware of some of the unfortunate circumstances our canna-businesses are finding themselves in,” she added.

Houenou said a lot of landlords greatly increase rates at the 11th hour before signing a deal.

“There’s not much we can do,” she admitted.

“The Business Action Center BAC is offering a cannabis training academy … for those who want to start a business,” Del Cid-Kosso said.

McWhite said people can sign up for the Cannabis Training Academy (CTA) now.

Like many government programs, its rollout has been delayed, unfortunately.

“They should be launching very soon,” he claimed.

“We’ve accumulated some legacy leaders. They provided recommendations the CRC has really implemented,” McWhite explained.

He said the idea to launch the CTA idea came that way.

“The course is free,” McWhite added.

He said FG could connect them to underground legacy operators so they can help them.

“The NJCRC welcomes that connection,” McWhite declared.

He said underground legacy operators are in the process of getting up and running.

Problems with Jersey Cannabis Licenses

Cultivator Neptune’s Garden co-owner Chris Horning explained they’re a micro grower in Neptune in Monmouth County getting close to hitting the market.

His mother, Virginia, is the mother majority owner, so they’re women-owned.

“Happy to get the license. But it wasn’t that advantageous,” Horning said.

He said that the micro business size limit imposed hurts his chance to do business. Horning also thought there were restrictions on the types of investors he could reach out to.

He wanted to convert to a regular business size when their annual is up for renewal in August.

Houenou said he was confusing microbusiness ownership restrictions on the 51 percent majority owner versus possible loaners or investors where no such restriction exists.

“Access to capital is an ongoing issue and will continue to be an ongoing issue,” leading advocate and professional Leo Bridgewater declared.

So, he praised their partnership with the EDA.

“It’s a heck of a step. No other state has done that before,” Bridgewater said.

He also wanted them to hire more staff to streamline the process to increase the speed of the licensing process.

Bridgewater noted the legislation says veteran applicants must identify as a “New Jersey veteran.”

“We take an oath to the Constitution of the United States,” he argued.

“It is something I am looking into. It has come up in some public comments,” Del Cid-Kosso said.

Cannabis Cultivation Inspection Issues

Hamilton Farms cultivator CEO Rahul Patel said inspectors think everything would be ready to go when they came to check before they can start growing.

“It’s a little difficult for cultivators. It’s not like you’re going to be dealing with the post-harvest process until months later,” he argued.

Patel thought postponing that would get more cultivators to market.

The lack of quality cultivators has been a big problem for years that many in the New Jersey cannabis industry and community hate.

He also wanted them to see if they could bend the rules to allow them to get creative when problems.

Del Cid-Kosso concluded by saying they appreciated the feedback and wanted to create focus groups to improve the process.

“We really wanted to hear your honest and candid feedback. I know we’re not always able to dive in as deep during the public board meetings,” Houenou said.

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