The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) met for the first time, 21 months after the Jake Honig Act establishing the CRC was signed into law.
They elected a Vice-Chair, took over the Division of Medical Marijuana from the NJ Department of Health, established Offices of the Commission that will carry act their work, and heard Executive Director Jeff Brown’s report on the state of NJ cannabis.
“I’m thrilled we’ve finally arrived at this historic day,” CRC Chair Diana Houenou said. “Our journey here is no small matter.”
Houenou is eager to launch the CRC. She noted that it took many phases and included elected officials, stakeholders, advocates, and community organizations, “and it ultimately included 2.7 million voters who changed our constitution.”
Houenou noted countless people sharing their lived experiences about the negative effects of prohibition.
“It is because of you we have reached this incredible moment in New Jersey history,” she added.
Commissioner Sam Delgado was made Vice Chair unanimously.
“As Vice-Chair, I will strive to ensure this commission operates with the same professionalism, diligence, and commitment we expect from our industry operators,” Delgado said.
The Division of Medical Marijuana in the Department of Health was then transferred to the CRC.
“This decision makes yet another milestone in New Jersey’s journey,” Houenou said. She noted patients and advocates fought hard to exp medical marijuana.
“We will not fail you,” Houenou said to them.
However, “standing up an entirely new state agency is no smaller task. We will center our work around protecting patient access to medicine,” she added. “It will take time to develop several weeks to write regulations and hire.”
Cannabis Regulatory Commissioners’ Remarks
“I’m very humbled to be part of this journey,” Delgado said. He noted that on July 20, 1975, he was arrested for possession when hitchhiking to a summer camp job with friends in Orange County, New York. The police took him to a judge in Goshen, where he was held for four days in a jail cell until his co-workers bailed him out.
“When I think what led to accept this position… this incident from 46 years ago was very much in my mind,” Delgado said, noting he had been retired from his position as a Verizon executive.
He said the NJ cannabis industry would be very inclusive and favor entrepreneurs.
“I come here today ready to work for in the interests of the people of New Jersey,” he said, adding, “This will not be an easy road to travel.”
My door is always open,” Delgado added.
“Social work is not only my vocation; it is my passion,” said Commissioner Krista Nash. “I believe that one of the core values of social work is social justice.”
Nash noted she has worked as Program Director dealing with prison re-entry of individuals in Camden, NJ, helping people with disorders get jobs. Many of them were directly impacted by the War on Drugs and face barriers to re-entry into society. She added patients need adequate supply without disruption.
“People were set up to fail” to the disproportionately unfair justice system,” Commissioner Charles Barker said.
“I think about the chance to rebuild targeted communities and the opportunity to generate wealth in these areas through access to the biggest industry of the future,” he added.
Barker said New Jersey could be a “model state for prioritizing restorative justice, safety, and equity.
He was appointed after outrage by NJ NAACP, and others threatened a lawsuit because no social justice organization was represented. Previously, he was Senator Cory Booker’s cannabis policy advisor as Booker has sought to take the lead in the US Senate on the issue.
“As a young Latina who comes from humble beginnings, I want to thank Governor Murphy for giving me this opportunity,” Commissioner Maria Del Cid said.
She noted that as the former Director of Policy and Legislation at the NJDOH, she worked closely with Brown on the medical marijuana program.
“Our work here is not done,” Del Cid said. “I look forward to continuing to advocate for patients.”
She noted New Jersey could be the leading state in the cannabis industry.
In Spanish, she summarized her remarks in English, saying that it was important to her that marginalized communities, veterans, women, and minorities are represented in the process, among other issues.
In his report, Brown praised the division of MMJ, including the 30 staffers in field compliance, investigation, customer service, and IT.
“You have made the success of this program possible,” Jeff Brown said.
He said there are nearly 107,000 patients in the program, 4,000 caregivers, and 1250 doctors.
While noting there are 15 dispensary locations open, a 16th location will open soon. There are 20,000 lbs. of cannabis inventory in the dispensaries. He acknowledged more dispensaries are needed.
Brown said the medical cannabis program needs lower prices, open more locations, and have “better value for patients.”
Regarding opening the adult-use cannabis market, “We would really need to see action across the board,” Brown said, explaining the dispensaries have not been adequately preparing for this.
He noted that growing bans in small and suburban towns. A municipal ban does not necessarily ban cannabis in town, just the industry Brown said. He encouraged towns to “work with us, wait to see the regulations we do. Certainly, we want to hear from all of you.”
“It’s going to be important that these businesses have a place to go,” Brown said.
Brown said the 2019 Alternative Treatment Center (ATC) license round, the announcement of which has been delayed for 16 months due to a lawsuit, will be announced: “sooner rather than later.”
There will be a better and more open permit process.
He acknowledged the race between New Jersey and New York to legalize adult-use cannabis.
“We in the Garden State will be living up to our name as the Garden State,” Houenou said. Many have noted the slogan when discussing homegrow.
The Offices of the CRC to Establish NJ Cannabis
The resolution taking control of the Division of Medical Marijuana noted they relied on the NJDOH for staff, IT, customer service, HR, fiscal administration, and other issues.
The Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Cannabis Business Development will be known as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. It will be the most important office to ensure the NJ cannabis industry is just. Governor Murphy will appoint the head of the office.
For activists’ fears that the industry will be dominated by heartless and greedy out-of-state Multi-State Operators (MSOs) to be realized, this office would have to fail on every metric it could be judged.
There will be robust licensing, investigations, and compliance staff in the CRC to ensure the industry abides by the regulations set down by the CRC to ensure product safety, including no moldy flower.
The Office of the Executive Director would be established to deal with management, regulatory affairs, legal, legislation, education, and Human Resources (HR). There will be a Chief of Staff to the Commission, the Deputy Executive Director, Chief Counsel, Communications Director, Director of Legal Affairs, Director of Labor compliance and education, and a Director of Administration in the office.
The Office of Compliance and Licensing will review license applications and deal with the permit process.
The Office of Patient and Customer Services will deal with growing the medical cannabis program and serve as a call center for complaints.
The Office of Data and Business Analytics will deal with data and IT.
Eleven CRC meetings have been scheduled for this year. However, Barker said the time of 10:30 would be too early for many to watch. Delgado agreed, and the time of the meetings has yet to be determined. Most city councils and county government meetings are held in the evenings versus the legislature and similar commissions, which operate during the day. The schedule is:
Monday, April 12
Thursday, April 22
Tuesday, May 4
Tuesday, May 18
Tuesday, June 1
Tuesday, July 13
Tuesday, August 3
Tuesday, September 14
Tuesday, October 5
Tuesday, November 9
Tuesday, December 7