The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) just issued its proposed final regulations earlier this month, on Aug. 1, almost a year since the first set of provisional regulations laid the foundation for New Jersey’s cannabis marketplace. There’s one big difference between now and then: cannabis legalization is now in effect, and former medical cannabis licensees currently hold all of the active licenses for adult-use cannabis sales. A provision in the law gave those businesses the first chance to engage in retail sales, and it’s imperative that we make sure their early advantage doesn’t shatter the potential for ordinary New Jerseyans — especially for those most affected by the drug war — to succeed in the cannabis industry.
That reality demands regulations from the CRC to encourage an equitable marketplace. The ACLU-NJ released recommendations today for what policies we need.
The CRC, the agency tasked with putting policies in place to develop and regulate the new industry, has unique power to chart a deliberate course for making New Jersey’s cannabis market more equitable. We as New Jerseyans must make sure they exercise their powers fully and encourage action from the Legislature to ensure that cannabis legalization doesn’t replicate the pernicious racial disparities that have defined cannabis prohibition.
The CRC is accepting public comments until Sept. 30 for improving these regulations, and we must tell them steps we need for a more inclusive, accessible cannabis marketplace. Sign our petition now.
The interim regulations issued in 2021 came as a promising start before sales began, with steps like creating a social equity designation for individuals with prior cannabis-related convictions and those living in economically disadvantaged areas, not limiting the number of licenses available for smaller cannabis businesses, and prioritizing the review of license applications from diversely owned and social equity businesses.
But, with cannabis sales in place and profits flowing into the well-resourced multi-state operators that dominate the industry, we need final regulations from the CRC that empower smaller entrepreneurs, especially those affected by the drug war, to succeed. The new proposed regulations, which are largely unchanged from last year, need to do more to ensure New Jersey’s industry reflects our state’s diversity and to prioritize the inclusion of people most harmed by marijuana criminalization.
Because an early advantage can so quickly crowd other players out of the market, the CRC must do everything in its power now to create rules that foster entrepreneurship among those criminalized by marijuana prohibition. Individuals personally affected by the criminal legal system, and the Black, brown, and lower-income communities that bore the brunt of aggressive enforcement, must have a meaningful ownership stake in cannabis.
Specifically, we need to make sure that the promises of equity, diversity, and accessibility are backed with financial support. New Jersey needs the CRC to advocate for:
- Initiatives providing startup capital to applicants from economically disadvantaged areas, people with prior cannabis-related convictions, and diversely owned businesses, in the form of grants or no-interest or low-interest loans. Lack of access to funding remains a key barrier to entry for many individuals aiming to start and grow a cannabis business. New York recently created a $200 million equity fund to address this need, and New Jersey can follow suit.
- Technical assistance programs, fee waivers, and other resources to help social equity and diversely owned applicants navigate the application process.
- Employment and mentorship programs directed toward social equity and impact zone applicants and diversely owned businesses.
- Guidelines to encourage municipalities to prioritize equity locally, including setting policies to remove limits on the number of licenses, reduce municipal fees, and develop programs for equity applicants locally.
- Dedicated funding and support for the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Cannabis Business Development to surpass the goal in the legislation of fifteen percent ownership by minority business owners and fifteen percent ownership by disabled veterans and women.
- Inclusive public education and outreach, with a focus on soliciting input from communities harmed most by cannabis prohibition regarding regulations and in developing advisory recommendations to the New Jersey Legislature on the use of revenue collected from the Social Equity Excise Fee.
The campaign to decriminalize and legalize cannabis in New Jersey, supported by voters in 2020 and passed into law in 2021, placed particular emphasis on ensuring those most impacted by marijuana criminalization would hold a meaningful stake in the cannabis marketplace. The domination of large multi-state operators combined with the lack of meaningful resources to bolster social equity and diversely owned business applicants leaves behind the very people meant to most benefit from the new industry.
A recent story in NJ Cannabis Insider chronicled the massive obstacles facing diverse participants.
“The New Jersey cannabis law was meant to give minority applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds … not just an even playing field to get into the cannabis industry, but a leg up.
“But in a red-hot real estate market like New Jersey, where inventory is low and nearly three out of four municipalities have opted out of selling adult weed, landing a place to buy or rent for a legal cannabis store has turned into a nightmare struggle for many.”
New Jersey is running out of time to implement policies that could prevent the monopolistic environment we’ve seen in other states with regard to cannabis ownership.
If the CRC fails to act now with its full authority, the racial and economic disparities in New Jersey’s cannabis industry will almost certainly continue to grow exponentially, thwarting New Jersey’s historic potential to create an industry where people impacted by the drug war have more opportunities to thrive.
We have fewer than 50 days to let the CRC know that we need to take stronger steps to advance racial and social justice in legalization. We need to act with the urgency this moment demands.
Take action now: