New Jersey Regulator Grilled at Hearing Over Sluggish Adult-Use Weed Launch

The top cannabis regulator in New Jersey faced tough questioning on Thursday during a marathon hearing that looked into the oft-delayed rollout of the state’s adult-use weed program.

Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing that reportedly lasted five hours.

The hearing came less than a month after recreational cannabis sales kicked off in the Garden State, a launch that was typified by one delay after another.

The troubled launch prompted Nicholas Scutari, the president of the New Jersey state Senate, to call for the hearings back in March.

“I’m confident that if we did not start this process, the adult weed market would still not be open in New Jersey,” Scutari, a Democrat who pushed for cannabis legalization for years, said at the hearing on Thursday, as quoted by NJ.com.

The hearing also featured “industry leaders and marijuana advocates [who] discussed the pace of setting up the Garden State’s recreational market, scrutinized pricing issues, and griped over still-unwritten regulations for employers seeking clarity on when they can and can’t discipline employees who use cannabis,” according to the New Jersey Monitor.

NJ.com reported that Wesley McWhite, the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s director of diversity and inclusion, also testified with Brown.

Legal adult-use cannabis sales began in New Jersey last month, drawing more than 12,000 customers who generated almost $1.9 million in sales on the first day.

But that grand opening came after the state had pushed back the launch.

In February, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state was hopefully “within weeks” of its first adult-use sales.

But in March, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission pushed back the scheduled launch of sales after opting against awarding licenses to several would-be dispensaries.

“We may not be 100% there today, but I assure you we will get there,” Brown said following that delay. “We have a few things to address and when we address them I’m happy to return to this body with a further update.”

That was the last straw for Scutari, who said at the time that he planned to hold special legislative hearings to look into the delays.

“These delays are totally unacceptable,” Scutari said in a statement at the time. “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.”

In calling for the hearings, Scutari said he wanted “explanations on the repeated hold-ups in expanding medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana and in the opening of retail facilities for adult-use cannabis,” and to learn “what can be done to meet the demands and reduce the costs of medical marijuana.”

On Thursday, Brown, according to NJ.com, “said the CRC delayed issuing licenses in March over fears there would not be enough supply of marijuana for both the medical and recreational markets.”

The New Jersey Monitor reported that the “lack of edibles in the Garden State was also a topic Thursday,” noting that “people can find flower, oils that can be vaped or ingested, and limited gummies” in dispensaries.

According to the publication, “edibles like cookies and brownies aren’t allowed under the current law, Brown noted, and any change to that would need to be approved by the Legislature.”

“There are ingestible avenues to purchase and consume, and we hope to expand those in the future. I don’t have a specific timeline,” Brown said, as quoted by the Monitor.

Per the Monitor, Scutari replied: “I’ll call you on that.”

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New Jersey Lawmaker Plans Hearings for Delays to Cannabis Launch

The New Jersey adult-use cannabis program is off to a halting start, with the launch of sales hamstrung by repeated delays. 

Now a top lawmaker in the Garden State wants answers, and is working hard to get them through the work of a committee. 

Nick Scutari, the president of the New Jersey State Senate, said Tuesday that he is forming a special legislative committee to look into why legal pot sales still haven’t begun in the state.

“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.”

In a press release, Scutari’s office said he wants “explanations on the repeated hold-ups in expanding medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana and in the opening of retail facilities for adult-use cannabis,” as well as to find out “what can be done to meet the demands and reduce the costs of medical marijuana.”

In 2020, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to legalize recreational pot use for adults aged 21 and older. However, there has still not been anything put in place when it comes to actual movement on legalization. 

Last year, Scutari helped author and pass legislation designed to implement the adult-use program. 

But the new cannabis program has been beset by repeated delays since that bill was passed, including a missed deadline in September to begin accepting applications from would-be cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and testing labs.

Last month, after New Jersey regulators missed a deadline for recreational pot sales to begin, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy indicated that the launch was coming soon

“If I had to predict, we are within weeks—I would hope in March—you would see implicit movement on the medical dispensaries, some of them being able to sell recreational,” Murphy said during an interview on a radio show. “They’ve got to prove they’ve got the supply for their medical customers. I hope shortly thereafter, the standalone recreational marijuana operators.”

But that plan hit a snag last week, when the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission declined to award licenses to eight medical cannabis dispensaries hoping to sell adult-use cannabis.

Jeff Brown, the executive director of the commission, said that the panel would like to receive additional information from those medicinal dispensaries regarding how they will have enough product to serve both sets of customers.

“We may not be 100% there today, but I assure you we will get there,” Brown said last week. “We have a few things to address and when we address them I’m happy to return to this body with a further update.”

In the meantime, Scutari wants to get to the bottom of the delays. His office said Tuesday that his plan is to “form a bi-partisan special committee” and then ask “the Assembly if they want to participate to make it a joint panel of legislators from both houses.”

“The oversight hearings will include an accounting from CRC officials and input from those operating cannabis businesses or waiting to get licensed, as well as others involved in the legal marijuana market,” the press release from Scutari’s office explained. 

“The voters approved adult-use recreational marijuana in 2020 and the implementing legislation was enacted more than a year ago. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission missed its deadline for allowing [medical cannabis dispensaries] to sell to the recreational market. The licensing of growers, distributors and retailers to serve the adult-use market has been plagued with repeated delays. Senator Scutari said the committee’s membership and scheduling will be worked out soon.”

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