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Senate Prez Nick Scutari Planning NJ Cannabis Hearings

Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union) still plans to hold New Jersey cannabis hearings. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) approved 34 conditional licenses and seven dispensary chains for adult-use sales.

“I am happy progress has been made. I will move forward with legislative oversight hearings. We can get an understanding of the delays, the uncertainties. And any obstacles that hinder the full implementation of the cannabis law,” Scutari said. “The special committee will engage in a fact-finding process with a problem-solving mission. We need to find ways to continue the expansion of medical dispensaries to the recreational market. And get the adult-use retail facilities up and running.”

Nick Scutari and New Jersey Cannabis Hearings

“We have to determine what can be done to reduce the costs of medical marijuana. Affordability and availability must be priorities for medical consumers who rely on cannabis for health reasons,” he added.

“We have to ensure the availability of enough cannabis to meet the needs of both the medical and recreational markets. How these supply needs are addressed in the ongoing approval process,” Scutari said regarding the New Jersey cannabis market.

Cannabis advocates, longtime market operators, and aficionados tout cannabis homegrow to reduce the price of medical cannabis. It has been an issue in the program since the beginning. However, Nick Scutari “does not see it happening any time soon” and would rather see the industry succeed. He said there needs to be a homegrow regulatory mechanism and registration to enforce it.

Homegrow and Affordability

NJ Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) introduced a medical New Jersey cannabis homegrow bill, S 342. It has bipartisan support to lower the price of medical cannabis. Its Assembly companion bill is A 997.

Senate Conference/Education Committee Chair Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) introduced a bill, S 353, to legalize both adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow. It has bipartisan support as well. Its companion in the Assembly is A 3657. Both bills allow less than a dozen plants. Homegrow was only an issue elsewhere when more than a dozen were allowed to be legally grown.

Despite the legalization of adult-use sales and the decriminalization of possession of up to six ounces of cannabis, it is still a crime. Growing remains a felony in New Jersey.

Health Committee Chair Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill S 313 to address medical cannabis affordability. It would help those eligible for state programs. When the bill passed his committee,  he noted that health insurance wouldn’t cover cannabis. Only the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medicine is covered.

“There are also issues of banking and social equity that should be reviewed,” Scutari said.

Banking and Money

Most believe banking to be a federal issue the SAFE Banking Act would solve. With the midterm elections looming, the US Senate is not close to passing SAFE Banking. That would help the cannabis industry. Nor do they like the social justice-focused MORE Act. President Joe Biden remains indifferent to cannabis at best.

“We need to know that the provisions of the law that promote diversity in the industry are being implemented. Resources will be provided to the communities that were adversely impacted by past drug laws,” Scutari added.

A special committee would be convened. Since Scutari is the long-standing cannabis sponsor in the New Jersey Senate, he would likely chair it.

It would be interesting to see a hearing held. There is controversy over the false perception about a lack of Black owners among the license holders who won under the medical cannabis regulations. Those rules were established by former Governor Chris Christie and were used until last December. That has hurt New Jersey cannabis.

Investigating Issues

“I want the hearings to be productive. It is in everyone’s best interest to find solutions. We can move forward with a legal marijuana market in New Jersey that operates safely, fairly, and effectively,” Scutari said.

After the announcement, some cannabis insiders thought Scutari was acting at the bidding of the large cannabis corporations eager to sell adult-use cannabis.

“The goal has been to stand up the industry correctly. We hope to see sustained momentum in getting the adult-use market off the ground for the benefit of New Jersey consumers and businesses and our state’s economic development,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said.

New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown said they were understaffed in the past. Yesterday NJCRC Chair Diana Houenou emphasized they grew from a staff of just Brown and the five Commissioners to 52 in a year. They do so while writing regulations and implementing the licensing process amidst COVID.

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