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NJ Marijuana Convictions Barring Workers from Legal Cannabis Industry

Scotty Risley’s NJ marijuana convictions prevent him from working in the Jersey cannabis industry. But they could prioritize his applicant for an adult-use cannabis license as a Social Equity applicant.

They are causing him to fail thorough background checks and merely get a job in the industry.

He is from May’s Landing in Cape May County. Risley has been growing cannabis for 40 years since he was 17 and getting in trouble.

Cannabis Industry Employment Problems

He has been seeking a job for two to three years in New Jersey’s regulated medical cannabis industry. He has specifically applied for cultivation positions. Risley noted many dispensaries are hiring to expand capacity in anticipation of adult-use sales.

“I have had phone interviews with hiring managers that lasted hours. They all seem very interested until they ask you the question have you ever had a conviction,” he said. “When I tell them yes, I have a manufacturing marijuana conviction they simply drop me like a hot potato.”

Risley noted he has applied for jobs with GTI Rise, TerrAscend’s Apothecarium, Curaleaf, and others.

“I actually thought that with over 40 years of experience that I would be an asset to their company, and they would be fighting over who would hire me first!” he said.

TerrAscend seemed interested when Risley spoke to them.

“Straighten out your conviction, and we’ll consider you. Call us back when you do,” he recounted hearing.

“Individuals that have been convicted of a criminal offense related to the sale or possession of illegal drugs, narcotics or controlled substances may not hold a position with TerrAscend,” according to the TerrAscend Apothecarium website.

Curaleaf and other companies make it a point on their job descriptions to say applicants must pass a background check.

Risley said the interviewing process was going well at Curaleaf until they asked about his NJ marijuana convictions.

“The door is closed at these cannabis facilities,” Risley said.

Expungement Issues

Risley said he still has a record, although he went through the process of expungement. He has not received a reply back.

“It’s despicable,” Risley said. “Seems like (Governor) Murphy doesn’t worry about it.”

Risley feels betrayed by Murphy and the claims of automatic expungement.

While the State would like to tout the many expungements processed, this is why expungement clinics are being held.

“I feel helpless,” he said.

This is why recidivism and the underground market undermining the legal industry threaten the long-term viability of a legal cannabis market.

To make matters worse, he couldn’t get a job at a Bass Pro Shop as a medical cannabis patient when they wanted to drug test.

Risley noted he is an official NJ Medical Marijuana Patient due to an issue with muscular spasms of the prostate, which is painful.

Denying Those With NJ Marijuana Convictions Jobs

The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) needs to approve every employee hired by a licensed cannabis company. Part of that process is a thorough background check. Previously the NJ Department of Health (DOH) handled the process.

According to the original Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA) law that legalized medical marijuana, “A person who has been convicted of a crime involving any controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog as set forth in chapter 35 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes except paragraph (4) of subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:35-10, or any similar law of the United States or any other state shall not be issued a permit to operate as an alternative treatment center or be a director, officer, or employee of an alternative treatment center.”

In May 2019, the DOH said, “The Act obliges the Department to require persons applying to be ATC employees to undergo criminal history record background checks, and to disapprove the applications of persons who have disqualifying convictions unless the Commissioner finds that the applicant has demonstrated clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation.”

In 2020, during the pandemic, the DOH sought to expedite the background check process because the dispensaries were faced with massive demand. They did so by having applicants certify they had no past convictions and encouraging dispensaries to use third-party companies for background checks.


“I had no choice but to apply for a license,” Risley said.

However, he does not think it is an easy process

“You need a lawyer and a Ph.D. in business just to get through the application. As well as liquid equity of around 300,000 or more for just a micro-business,” he claimed.

“If people with growing convictions cannot get jobs with a licensed cannabis company. And they don’t have the means to start a licensed company. I guess we’re shit out of luck?” Risley asked.

“If the door is shut for legacy growers to be employed in the industry. Aand we don’t have the means to get a license. Then legacy growers essentially have been forced out of this elite cannabis society New Jersey has created,” he argued.

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