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NJCRC cannabis licenses

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) approved more than 300 adult-use cannabis licenses during their first live/hybrid meeting.

It was held at the Civil Service Commission building in downtown Trenton.

“It’s good to see everyone in person,” NJCRC Chair Diana Houenou said.

People were in the audience, hoping to win. Along with locals, there were also minority businesspeople from elsewhere hoping to see their company name on the big screen. No one is informed before it is publicly announced, making it like a mad raffle.

Licenses Awarded by the NJCRC

Two-hundred and ninety-seven conditional adult-use cannabis licenses were awarded. Several in the crowd cheered at winning.

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They were approved unanimously 5-0. The room cheered happily.

A special reward for SVA NJ Serviced LLC approval was given with Vice Chair Sam Delgado recused from the room.

It was approved 4-0.

NJCRC Executive Director Jeff Brown noted that 1360 applications had been submitted. Only 63 applications have not had a completeness review, and 1,072 cure letters were issued.

Annual License Applications

Brown explained they have their first slate of annual cannabis licenses that did not apply via the conditional process.

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He urged people to respond timely to their requests to keep the process moving efficiently.

Eight companies won:

It was approved 4-1, with Barker voting no.

Annual Conversions

Ten conditional adult-use cannabis licenses were approved to be converted.

“This is what we built. This is the first cohort. This is the tip of the iceberg. These are new annual licenses we are considering for operation, Brown said.

Brown explained they were eager for this. He said they had undergone a thorough process.

“Licensees have an ongoing obligation to report things to the CRC,” Brown noted.

Those approved need to work with the investigation team,” he said, among other things.

“The numbers might be small, but they are mighty,” Delgado said.

“Thank you to the staff … for helping us on this monumental day,” Houenou said.

Shen noted they are the first ten to convert.

It was approved 4-1, with Commissioner Charles Barker voting no.

Expansion Certification for Curaleaf

The room grumbled at their mention.

“I want to congratulate all the 18 businesses… the first in New Jersey’s history to be awarded an annual license. This is only the first step in what is a long process. It is my hope that these businesses get up and running as quickly as possible. We need them to lower the price of cannabis,” Houenou said.

She also wanted more companies to pay the social equity fee.

“We are relying on you to be a safe and reliable operator,” Houenou said.

Curaleaf’s Bordentown location was approved for adult-use cannabis sales.

Brown said they have several metrics on which to judge if a company is able to convert and meet their standards.

“We are dead serious about ensuring patient access… about labor provisions. If approved, we will have a vigilant eye on Curaleaf and the other expanded ATCs,” he added.

“I am not fully convinced Curaleaf has made good faith efforts as it relates to our standards. Any other cannabis business… we will be doing the same,” Commissioner Krista Nash said.

“I have also become concerned about the actions of their particular entity,” Houenou said.

She questioned their commitment to workers, patients, and safety.

“There’s a lot of information that staff reviews. I need some more time to review the material. I do echo your sentiments. Accountability is critical here,” Houenou said.

It passed 3-1-1, with Barker voting no and Houenou abstaining.

Three companies wanted to change their name, GLCPC changed to Re-up, Garden State Dispensary to Ayr Wellness only, and Middle Valley Partners is Valley Wellness.

Assistance for License Applicants

Delgado said they are working with NJ Business Action Center (NJBAC) to provide technical assistance and help to get cannabis licenses, including mentorship.

He explained the NJBAC is proposing a curriculum for the course, including working on a business plan and a legacy to legal course.

Some programs will be targeted to certain license categories of applicants like minority, women, social equity, Impact Zones, and Economically Disadvantaged Areas (EDAS)-based businesses.

Delgado noted that Melonie Willoughby and her Deputy Director Penny Wild of the NJBAC have been working with cannabis groups, leaders, and educators to learn what needs to be done.

“This is important that … license applicants get the support they need. Their success is critical. We believe this assistance is essential to repair the neighborhoods… of those subjected to mass criminalization,” Willoughby said.

She said they have been doing a great deal of outreach.

Willoughby said it would be a 10-week course in the first half of next year, 2023.

“We feel that mentorship aspect is very, very important,” Willoughby said.

She said experienced professionals are going to teach the courses. Willoughby said social justice and business combined were close to her heart.

“I was one of the first 400 women admitted to Rutgers College in 1970,” Willoughby said. “That is my why. To challenge outdated attitudes… and mentor the leaders of tomorrow.

She explained those who wish to be instructed can register at njstart.gov

“We stand ready to act on Governor Murphy’s and the CRC’s commitment to bring economic opportunities to our communities,” Willoughby said.

Willoughby said people could register at Nj.gov/state/bac/cannabis/, which she carefully spelled out.

“Or just call me at 1-800-Jersey-7,” she said to laughter.

“We are the Garden State, and I intended for us to stand up to that rep,” Houenou said. “Thank you very much.”

“What is the cost for prospective applicants?” Barker asked.

“There’s no cost,” Willoughby said.

“I thought I heard that. I wanted to make that clear,” Barker said.

“I know how costly it is for those struggling to do it on their own and paying pros to help them. For those new to this, we want to be there for them,” Willoughby said.

“I acknowledge the role the public has played in getting to this point,” Houenou said.

She noted business development assistance had been a crucial issue many have advocated the NJCRC address.

“The Economic Development Authority has been putting together listening sessions to explore opportunities to build an access to Capital program,” Houenou noted.

Extension of Conditional Licenses

“We’re seeing conditional license holders need more time. There’s circumstances out of their control,” Brown said.

He said they would extend it another 45 days. Thus, there could be two 45-day extensions.

“This will give conditional holders more time to convert,” Brown said.

The crowd applauded its unanimous passage.

Houenou noted the final cannabis market rules comment period has ended.

Brown said the conditional clock doesn’t start till you get the license.

Cannabis Market Details

“Thank you to the hundreds of folks who submitted comments,” Houenou said.

They are considering any necessary changes and said final rules would be adopted in the future.

Brown noted the number of medical cannabis patients peaked at about 1280,000 in the summer, while about 4,400 people are still joining every month. Sales in the market vary by month.

“There’s always an uptick in April. There’s ebbs and flows,” he added.

Brown said among winners from the 2019/201 medical cannabis round, Hillview is operating cultivating, and a company called Garden State is called medical only. In addition, Sweet Spot opened a new dispensary in Voorhees, the 29th medical cannabis dispensary in New Jersey, and Justice Grown, MPX, and Breakwater’s second location recently opened.

Pricing

The NJCRC did a pricing investigation. Brown said the price average price in August was $414 an ounce. Prices have been going up, he added. Brown said adult-use flower is about $450 an ounce.

“Simply economics here. Very high demand. Supply we’re ramping up, getting licenses up,” he said.

“Prices are still high in New Jersey,” Brown explained. “Price for medical cannabis is equal or lower. Prices have gone up but less than the rate of inflation.”

Fewer medical cannabis discounts are being given out too.

In addition, the Metric inventory system is going live soon.

“We did release testing guidance. We’re going to be making changes to those guidance rules,” Brown said. He noted he is working with lab experts that were in the audience.

Brown commended NJCRC Director of Diversity and Inclusion Wesley McWhite for working on legacy to legal guidance for people who want to transition and a forthcoming Equity Score Card. He noted that NJCRC Chief of Staff Justin Rodriguez and Director of Governmental Affairs Jesus Alcazar have been working on expanding local approval.

“There are challenges on the municipal level,” Brown acknowledged.

He said they are engaging with local officials.

Social Excise Equity Fee

Brown said equity in cannabis licensing is critical, along with raising revenue.

“Now that we have data on pricing… we are recommending the excise fee to be adjusted for the actual price of cannabis,” he said.

Brown explained the fee would increase from $1.10 to $1.52 an ounce.

“This is a recommended adjustment based on the actual retail price,” he said.

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