Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Union) still plans to hold New Jersey cannabis hearings after the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) approved 34 conditional licenses and seven dispensary chains for adult-use sales.
“I am happy progressive has been made. I will move forward with legislative oversight hearings so 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 and 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 regularly tout cannabis homegrow to reduce the price of medical cannabis, which 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
NJ Senate Majority Whip Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) has introduced a medical cannabis homegrow bill, S 342, that has bipartisan support to lower the price of medical cannabis. Its Assembly companion bill is A 997.
Senate Conference and Education Committee Chair Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) introduced a bill, S 353, to legalize both adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow that 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, growing it remains a felony in New Jersey.
Health Committee Chair Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill S 313 to address medical cannabis affordability for those eligible for state programs. When the bill passed his committee, he noted that health insurance won’t cover cannabis since only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medicine is covered.
“There are also issues of banking and social equity that should be reviewed,” Scutari said.
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 to help the cannabis industry or 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 and that resources will be provided to the communities that were adversely impacted by past drug laws,” Scutari added.
Since a special committee would be convened and 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, given the controversy over the falsely perceived lack of Black owners among the license holders who won under the medical cannabis regulations established by former Governor Chris Christie that were in use until last December.
“I want the hearings to be productive. It is in everyone’s best interest to find solutions so we can move forward with a legal marijuana market in New Jersey that operates safely, fairly, and effectively,” Scutari said.
After the initial announcement of hearings, 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, and 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.
NJCRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said they were understaffed in the past. Yesterday NJCRC Chair Diana Houenou emphasized how they grew from a staff of just Brown and the five Commissioners to 52 in a year while writing regulations and implementing the licensing process amidst COVID.