“We knew from the start that it would be hard and continuous work, but we are proud of the framework we have already put in place.”
By Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, New Jersey Instructor
It’s been three weeks since New Jerseyans started going to local dispensaries for legal, recreational cannabis – the start of what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry that was launched nearly four years ago. after lawmakers began to seriously discuss legalizing marijuana.
And before Senate Speaker Nicholas Scutari (D) and the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, industry leaders and marijuana advocates discussed the pace of building up the Garden State recreational market, considered issues pricing and looked at as yet unwritten regulations for employers seeking clarity. when they can and cannot discipline employees who use cannabis.
“We knew from the start that it would be hard and ongoing work, but we’re proud of the framework we’ve already put in place,” Jeff Brown, executive director of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, told the committee.
Scutari, a legal marijuana proponent, called Thursday’s hearing last month after the cannabis commission initially said it would not approve the start of recreational sales. The commission quickly reversed its position and authorized a group of medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling recreational marijuana on April 21. Nearly $2 million worth of legal weed was sold to 12,000 consumers that day.
Brown was joined Thursday by Wesley McWhite, the commission’s diversity chief, and the two faced off examination legislators for almost two hours. Dianne Houenou, president of the commission, did not show up.
Lawmakers have largely shifted their focus from why it’s taken so long to get the recreation market off the ground to the challenges facing the new industry in New Jersey. Experts, lawyers and advocates have offered suggestions for ironing out some foreseeable roadblocks.
More than 900 entrepreneurs have applied for a recreational marijuana license, including for cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale. About 500 of them are on hold, Brown said. So far, 102 conditional licenses have been granted to recreational cannabis growers and manufacturers, which have one year to open.
“We have to keep working and you have to be nimble because this market is about to explode here in New Jersey,” said marijuana attorney Bill Caruso. “We have a new economy coming and it’s good to be on both sides of the ledger.”
Legal weed is expensive, but still no home cultivation
On the black market, people can pick up an eighth of an ounce of weed for between $40 and $50. But in New Jersey dispensaries, it will cost customers up to $65, or nearly $400 for an ounce of cannabis.
Cost is one of the biggest setbacks facing the industry, and experts say part of the problem is high demand and limited supply. Only 12 dispensaries sell recreational marijuana in the entire state, and all of them also serve people who use medical marijuana.
“We have a lot of demand and a limited supply, and so it’s really about getting new licenses for new businesses, giving new entrepreneurs opportunities to serve consumers, and that’s what we’re focusing on. we’re focused,” Brown said.
Brown added that more staff would help, which is why the agency is asking for $17 million in Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) proposed budget, currently being considered by lawmakers.
The lack of edibles in the Garden State was also a topic on Thursday. At dispensaries, people can find flowers, oils that can be vaped or ingested, and limited gummies. Concentrates, known as shatter or dabs, have also been approved for sale in New Jersey but are not yet available.
Baked foods like cookies and brownies aren’t allowed under current law, Brown noted, and any changes to that would need to be approved by the legislature.
“There are unmanageable purchase and consumption possibilities, and we hope to develop them in the future. I don’t have a specific timetable,” Brown said.
“I’ll call you on that,” Scutari replied.
Sen. Troy Singleton (D) suggested home cultivation, which would allow marijuana users or medical patients to grow cannabis at home. New Jersey is the only state with a recreational market that does not allow medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis at home, and it remains a third-degree felony.
While Singleton wanted to know if home cultivation would help lower some prices by adding supply, Brown dismissed the topic. The state legislature is expected to pass a new law allowing people to grow marijuana plants, an effort that has previously failed.
“It’s something that defenders are passionate about…I know it’s a problem, it’s obviously outside the jurisdiction of the CRC,” Brown said.
More guidance for employers
Lawmakers wanted more answers about what the Cannabis Commission is doing to help employers worried about their workers being drunk on the job.
While drug tests used to be used by an employer to find out who was using illegal substances, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for up to four weeks. It is therefore impossible to know if they smoked a joint before coming to work or in the last month.
Under the law, employers can still ban workplace marijuana and pre-hire drug testing, but can no longer fire someone based on a positive drug test for marijuana.
Ray Cantor, vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, criticized the cannabis commission for not creating standards for the business community to follow for when an employee can be terminated. He said companies are “still operating in the dark on this issue”.
The commission plans to issue guidelines on how employers can vet and discipline employees through a workplace impairment recognition expert. This is a new job required by law to conduct field sobriety tests.
These regulations have not yet fallen. Brown said the commission hopes to handle them soon, but needs to focus on getting the leisure industry started first.
Brown said the commission was meeting with the New Jersey State Police, which oversees the training of drug recognition experts who conduct marijuana sobriety tests. It’s unclear what the regulations would require, but some lawmakers have suggested exclusions for some workers.
“It’s a piece that I think needs to be worked on. Now that we’ve legalized cannabis use and you have various industries—law enforcement, the airline industry, there’s a whole slew of heavy machinery operations—we need to put in place a process in which employers can follow the regulations…they were given to enforce,” said Sen. Tony Bucco (R).
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