The Murphy Administration began accepting applications from cannabis growers, product manufacturers and testing labs on Wednesday — the first step that will usher in the legitimate marijuana industry New Jersey voters endorsed in a referendum 13 months ago.
Within four hours of the application portal going live 9 a.m. Wednesday, 500 people had established accounts, Jeff Brown, executive director for the Cannabis Regulatory Commission announced. By the end of the business day, 635 had created accounts, commission spokeswoman Toni-Anne Blake said.
“We are happy to reach this milestone,” Brown said in a statement. “Applications are coming in, the platform is performing well, and we can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry.”
The commission will start accepting applications for dispensary owners, the retail shops that will sell the cannabis products, on March 15. There are no deadlines; applications will be accepted and reviewed on a continuous basis, the commission said.
Applicants who are owned by women, minorities and veterans will get reviewed and approved first, as well as from those who have been convicted of marijuana offenses and people from poor communities, the commission has said. One of the goals behind legalizing the sale and possession of weed is to lessen the harm on Black and brown people, who have been more than three times more likely to face arrest and conviction than white people, even though usage rates are the same.
Under the cannabis legalization law signed in February
by Gov. Phil Murphy
, the commission created the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Business Development to promote diversity.
The commission also created a category for Social Equity Business applicants, defined as entities “owned by people who have lived in an economically disadvantaged area or who have convictions for cannabis-related offenses.”
Economically disadvantaged areas are communities in which people earn 80% or less of New Jersey’s median household income of $90,444 and have an uninsured rate of 1-½ times that of the rest of the state, according to the commission website.
Business may also apply for a license under an Impact Zone designation if the community they are from has an average unemployment rate that is 32% higher than the rest of the state, 77% more marijuana arrests, and a crime index – a measure of overall crime in a municipality – of 34% or more than the rest of New Jersey.
Civil rights leaders and minority entrepreneurs are watching carefully to see whether New Jersey will make good on its commitment to diversity.
A wave of grower licenses for the medicinal marijuana program announced in October was billed as being all “certified minority- or women-owned.” But most, if not all, of those minority license winners were white women. Applicants of color told NJ Advance Media
said they had not received accurate points for being “minority” applicants in the scoring and award process.
Brown defended the commission’s work and said its commitment to diversity would be evident.
“In the eight months since the CRC was established, we have completed key tasks started under the Department of Health to increase supply and provide additional access for patients in the medicinal market,” Brown said. “Now we have begun accepting recreational cannabis business applications under our new rules which prioritize equity.”
Last week, the commission awarded 30 licenses
to dispensary operators for the 11-year-old medicinal marijuana program.