TRENTON – Senate President Nick Scutari will form a special committee and conduct oversight hearings investigating what’s caused “totally unacceptable” delays in opening up legal weed sales in New Jersey.
Scutari, the main legislative sponsor for New Jersey marijuana legalization, announced the formation of the committee and hearings just five days after the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission tabled a vote on allowing some existing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling legal weed to recreational customers over 21 years old.
The tabling of the vote left state government and cannabis industry officials slackjawed.
“These delays are totally unacceptable,” Scutari said in a statement. “We need to get the legal marijuana market up and running in New Jersey. This has become a failure to follow through on the public mandate and to meet the expectations for new businesses and consumers.”
At its March 24 meeting, CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said there was about a 100,000-pound supply gap between what the state’s medical marijuana operators have on hand and what would be necessary to satisfy the state’s 120,000 registered medical marijuana patients, as well as the expected glut of new, recreational customers, including those driving over state lines from New York, Pennsylvania or Delaware.
And that calculation used a conservative model, in which customers would only buy 4 ounces of pot per year, or 1 ounce of pot per year for those traveling from out of state, Brown said.
“While the commission recognizes the desire of the public to get the personal use market up and running, it is a shared responsibility to do so,” Commissioner Krista Nash said at the meeting. “Our hope is that the guidance the commission provides here today will move the process along so we can get these (alternative treatment centers) open (for recreational customers) in a responsible manner that meets the needs of the patients and the personal use market.”
In response, CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown highlighted that the CRC approved 68 conditional licenses for recreational marijuana growers and manufacturers on March 24 and noted that the commission “continues to work with the (alternative treatment centers) that have applied for expansion.
“The goal is to help ATCs meet the criteria that ensures the needs of medicinal patients are met, and to ensure across all providers that there is not a strain on supply, that municipal compliance is satisfied, and that the market can open safely and so that equity is prioritized,” Brown said in a statement.
Legalizing marijuana in New Jersey has been wrought with delays from the start. Gov. Phil Murphy’s 2017 campaign promised to legalize weed within his first 100 days in office.
But by 2019, it became clear Scutari would be unable to win over moderate Republicans and even some Democratic senators from urban areas.
Instead, the issue was punted to the November 2020 ballot. That referendum was supported by more than two-thirds of New Jersey voters, on a night where legal weed questions also won in Arizona, Montana and South Dakota.
But the process was delayed for nearly four months while legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office fought over language involving the tax rate on cannabis, where those tax funds would go and how to handle underage marijuana users.
Since then, legislators in New York, Connecticut and Virginia have legalized marijuana, calling into doubt how much of a head start the Garden State would have on collecting tax revenue from the millions of out-of-state marijuana tourists that were once predicted.
In a statement, Scutari said the hearings would include CRC officials, input from cannabis businesses waiting to be licensed and others involved in the legal marijuana market.
No timetable for the formation of the committee or its oversight hearings was immediately announced.
Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering New Jersey local news, marijuana legalization, transportation and a little bit of everything else. He’s won a few awards that make his parents very proud. Contact him at email@example.com or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.