Nearly 500 individuals and entities began the process of applying to open legal recreational cannabis businesses in New Jersey within the first four hours of the portal’s opening on Wednesday, Dec. 15, the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) announced this week.
The CRC opened applications for recreational cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and testing labs on Wednesday, and by the early afternoon, the system was averaging 155 new users per hour.
The overwhelming interest underlies the opportunity for the cannabis industry in New Jersey, and underscores the widespread support for allowing legal weed in the state—voters passed a legalization measure last year by a two-to-one margin.
“We are happy to reach this milestone,” says CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown. “Applications are coming in, the platform is performing well, and we can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry.”
Brown estimates the first recreational cannabis businesses in the state could open as soon as next spring, with growers beginning the licensing process now.
“Getting cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs licensed and operating will set the framework and establish supply for retailers who will start licensing in March 2022,” Brown says.
Despite the abundance of interest from businesses, and the widespread support for recreational cannabis legalization from voters, many municipalities in the state have opted out of allowing such businesses in their jurisdictions. They’ve done so because the CRC didn’t issue guidelines on how cannabis businesses would be regulated until, basically, the deadline for municipalities to decide whether or not to allow them. Other cities and towns are simply waiting to see how it works in other NJ locales.
Plus, if a municipality formally opted out, it can now choose to opt in at any time in the future. If it had not acted or passed an opt-in or -out ordinance by the deadline, it would’ve automatically been opted in and required to wait five years to enact a ban.
“I think there’s an understanding that the ballot measure that passed was on legalization and decriminalization, and it wasn’t whether or not your community is right for a dispensary,” NJ League of Municipalities Executive Director Mike Cerra told us in August. “It’s a different question. You can for very good reason support legalization but say it’s not a good fit for this community.”
Less than one-fifth of the state’s 565 municipalities have opted to allow legal weed in one of its six categories: cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distributing, retail sales and delivery. (Municipalities can’t ban delivery of legal recreational weed in their jurisdictions.)
Another key aspect of law that voters passed last year was the commitment to helping foster a diverse legal cannabis industry in the state, and support those from communities who were most harmed by the war on drugs. To do this, the law requires the CRC to prioritize “social equity businesses,” which are “businesses owned by individuals with past cannabis convictions, those from designated Economically Disadvantaged Areas, and minority-owned, woman-owned, and disabled-veteran owned businesses.” It also provides opportunities for people with less capital to apply for microbusiness licenses.
The CRC reiterated its commitment to social equity businesses in its announcement of the number of the applications this week, writing that those groups will be “prioritized” in the review process.