New Jersey Cultivation Cap Expired, But Real Estate Issues Remain

New Jersey’s cannabis legalization law initially went into effect in 2021 with a cultivator cap set at 37 licenses. Adult-use sales launched in April 2022, but at the time only seven cultivators were licensed to supply cannabis 13 dispensaries across the state. Last month, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) allowed the cap to expire on Feb. 22.

“The market is developing, and we don’t want to hinder that. The New Jersey canopy is currently only 418,000 square feet—far below the average of other states with legal cannabis,” said Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso. “New Jersey currently has only one cultivation license for every 197,000 residents. The national average is one license for every 31,000 residents. We have a lot of room to grow. We expect that lifting the cap will open the space for more cultivators, ultimately resulting in more favorable pricing and better access for patients and other consumers.”

As of March 2, the CRC has granted licenses to 17 operational cultivation facilities. But even with the cultivation license cap change, many New Jersey municipalities have opted out of adult-use cannabis. One year ago, the Ashbury Park Press reported that nearly 400 towns had opted out of being home to any cannabis businesses. The co-founder and president of New Jersey-based Premium Genetics, Darrin Chandler Jr., told MJBizDaily that finding potential real estate opportunities is “almost impossible,” and described prices as “astronomical.”

On the patient side, New Jersey is still the only state with a medical cannabis program that does not allow patients to grow at home. In the past, many bills have been introduced to permit home cultivation to allow medical cannabis patients to grow for personal use. Bill S342, which is sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton and Sen. Vin Gopal, would allow patients to cultivate at home. However, a report from Politico states that opposition from Senate President Nick Scutari is a significant roadblock for the bill.

New Jersey’s industry is continuing to attract outside cannabis businesses. Brands such as Al Harrington’s Viola products are expanding into the state this month, starting on March 24 at RISE dispensaries. According to Harrington, he wants to expand his brand to support the local community. “I want to make sure that we are educating our community and empowering them with knowledge to understand the cannabis plant and the benefits that come from it,” Harrington told Business Insider.

Similarly, Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan is preparing to open Hashtoria Cannabis Lounge in Newark, New Jersey as well. “Getting excited yall!!! @hashstoria coming to the brick city !!!!! This is going to be flyest consumption lounge to hit the east coast. This will be monumental ! All hail to the mighty green ! Be strong, be wise and be the best version of you!!! #newjersey #cannabis #hashstoria” Raekwon recently wrote on Instagram.

Recently, the CRC held a public comment period to discuss its draft rules for cannabis consumption rules, which ends on March 18. This includes restrictions for on-site food sales, but permits food to be delivered or brought in from outside, and prohibition of tobacco and alcohol sales on-site.

In late February, the New Jersey Attorney General released an updated drug testing policy for law enforcement. Under the new revision, law enforcement officers will only be drug tested if they appear intoxicated at work. “Agencies must undertake drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion to believe a law enforcement officer is engaged in the illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, or is under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, including unregulated marijuana, or cannabis during work hours.”

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Cannabis Lounge Planned for Atlantic City Hotel

Visitors to Atlantic City could have the convenience of a cannabis dispensary and consumption lounge located just off the famed Boardwalk as soon as this summer under plans being considered for one of the city’s vintage hotels. If approved by regulators, the proposal would add a lounge permitting on-site consumption of cannabis products to a retail marijuana dispensary already planned for the Claridge Hotel, a 1920s-era former casino only steps from the Boardwalk.

New Jersey state regulators are currently in the process of developing the rules to govern cannabis lounges where patrons can legally smoke, vape, or otherwise consume cannabis in a public setting. The eventual approval of the proposed regulations is highly anticipated by the state’s nascent cannabis industry, with entrepreneurs including Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan fame already announcing plans to open weed lounges.

Dispensary and Lounge Approved by Local Regulators

In Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority last week approved plans to open the High Rollers Dispensary in the former casino area of the Claridge Hotel, which is located just off the Boardwalk between Park Place and Indiana Avenue. Jon Cohn, an owner of the business, told local media that High Rollers is close to finalizing a lease for the Claridge. The plans include a $3.2 million renovation of the property, which would add a new entrance to the building on Pacific Avenue near Indiana Avenue. 

The planned dispensary will occupy most of an area that was once an art gallery and is now mostly used for weddings, cocktail parties, and other events. The hotel plans to retain a portion of the space for its popular wedding business. In addition to the new entrance, the dispensary and lounge will also be accessible through the Claridge’s lobby, except when the hotel is hosting weddings at the site.

The High Rollers portion of the space, including a 3,700-square-foot baccarat room on the second floor, will be remodeled into a cannabis dispensary and consumption lounge. Plans for the consumption lounge include a bar for nonalcoholic beverages to comply with New Jersey’s proposed regulations for the businesses, which do not permit alcohol or food to be sold in consumption lounges. Other possible amenities for the site, which could be open as soon as this summer, include live entertainment and opportunities for outside food vendors. 

High Rollers has also been awarded a license for a cannabis cultivation facility on a vacant property in Atlantic City on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Arctic Avenue. The company expects to create more than 200 jobs to operate the enterprise, with about 175 positions needed for the cultivation facility and a staff of about 35 to run the cannabis dispensary and cultivation lounge.

“We feel it’s a good fit for the city as a whole, to utilize cannabis for tourism,” said Cohn. “You can’t be on the Boardwalk, but it’s relatively close.”

Atlantic City Has Weed ‘Green Zone’

New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana in 2021, and the state now has 21 dispensaries offering adult-use cannabis to consumers. Last year, Atlantic City established a “green zone” to attract cannabis businesses to the city’s struggling downtown area. The zone includes Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Avenue from Boston Avenue to Maryland Avenue, as well as the Orange Loop District, an area of bars, restaurants, and live entertainment stretching from Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue from Pacific Avenue to 200 feet from the Boardwalk. Permitted cannabis uses within the zone will include cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distribution, retail, and delivery. 

The Atlantic City Boardwalk itself, however, has restrictions against cannabis businesses. The restrictions do not apply to the Claridge Hotel, which is separated from the Boardwalk by Brighton Park and the city’s Korean War Memorial. Atlantic City also has two medical marijuana dispensaries, The Botanist and MPX NJ.

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New Jersey AG Releases Revised Drug Testing Policy for Law Enforcement

It’s been nearly a year since New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis program went live in April 2022. Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin revised his Law Enforcement Drug Testing Policy document to reflect this change for officers across the state. “Due to the complex nature of the law, and in order to provide uniformity in State employee drug testing as it pertains to the use of cannabis, it is necessary to revise this policy,” the document states in its introduction.

The revision also includes a section explaining the differences between drug testing for reasonable suspicion and probable cause. “Agencies must undertake drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion to believe a law enforcement officer is engaged in the illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, or is under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, including unregulated marijuana, or cannabis during work hours,” the policy states. It adds that this requires objective facts to lead a person to conclude that drug-related activity has taken place.

The policy for reasonable cause is described as “less demanding” than establishing probable cause because 1) more is required to satisfy the probable cause standard and 2) the “type of information” for reasonable suspicion is “less reliable than that required to show [probable] cause.”

Being found under the influence of cannabis or consuming cannabis “at work or during work hours” is prohibited. Reasonable suspicion in testing officers for cannabis use will be required if there is reasonable suspicion of the individual’s use of cannabis during work, or “observable signs of intoxication.”

Platkin initially released a memo one day after legal sales began in April 2022, stating that police can use cannabis while off duty. At the time, some senators penned a letter to Platkin with concerns about how it “fails to mention that marijuana users are federally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, an omission that may put officers unknowingly at risk of criminal prosecution.”

In October 2022, just after Platkin was sworn in as attorney general, he issued a directive that required law enforcement agencies to conduct two random drug tests for “at least 10 percent of the total number of sworn officers within the agency, and every officer must have an equal chance of selection during each test.”

Within the first 10 weeks of sales following the launch of adult-use cannabis in April 2022, New Jersey collected nearly $80 million in sales. “The market is improving. It is performing as we expect with the current number of dispensaries, the spread of locations, and the high prices,” said New Jersey Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown. “As more cannabis businesses come online, consumers won’t have to travel as far to make purchases, and prices will fall with increased competition. The market will do even better.”

More recently, sales reached more than $100 million. “New Jersey is only seeing the beginning of what is possible for cannabis,” said Brown last month in January. “We have now awarded 36 annual licenses for recreational cannabis businesses to New Jersey entrepreneurs, including 15 for dispensaries. Those businesses alone will be a significant growth of the market. With more locations and greater competition, we expect the customer base to grow and prices to come down.” New Jersey’s cannabis industry continues to thrive, attracting big celebrities such as Raekwon and Ice-T to open a dispensary in the state.

Next up, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission is establishing a plan to permit public cannabis lounges. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the agency released draft rules at the end of January, which would allow cannabis dispensaries to have indoor or outdoor spaces for legal consumption.

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How Hip-Hop Icons Naughty By Nature Blazed Past the Sleepers

Vincent “Vin Rock” Brown and Keir Lamont Gist—known professionally as DJ KayGee—are two of the most recognizable names in hip-hop. Along with founding Naughty By Nature group member Anthony Criss aka “Treach,” the rappers are thought of as legends in the hip-hop community—a role they hope to continue by both creating new music and paying it forward to the next generation of artists.

Vin and KayGee have now formed another group called Illtown Sluggaz, one which will feature DJ and Producer Slugga—a bear and mascot in the vein of a deadmau5 character. The Sluggaz are part group, part record label and part artist management development platform, with new music to be released and a new Slugga Music Concert Series kicking off March 25th at The Wellmont Theater in New Jersey. The concert series aims to give up-and-coming artists a chance to share the stage with veteran performers in a way to help them grow organically. 

When we connect over Zoom, Vin and KayGee are eager to discuss their almost 40 years of music industry experience, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 19 Naughty III album and smash hit “Hip Hop Hooray,” the role of cannabis in their creative process, and how they used hate from the “sleepers” to fuel their decorated career in music.

High Times: Growing up in New Jersey, was music always the path?

DJ KayGee: Growing up, it was really the early days of hip-hop and the culture. Just seeing everybody around the way, listening to the music, seeing the graffiti—all the things associated with the scene. And then finally, for me, it was seeing the movie Wild Style. That’s what really made me say, “Oh, I want to try to get into that culture.”

High Times: What about the movie specifically did it for you?

DJ KayGee: It was Grandmaster Flash DJing on the turntables in there. When I saw that in the movie, I said, “I have to try that.”

Vin Rock: For me, I’m the youngest of seven—five sisters, one brother—and my brother used to play the drums all of the time. He’d play Heat Wave, Kool & The Gang, Con Funk Shun on the record player and then would try and drum exactly how the drummers were drumming on the records. He’d get frustrated and kick and throw his drums all over the place because he couldn’t get it exactly right.

Fast forward to the Gladys Knight & the Pips music video “Save the Overtime (For Me).” I believe they had the New York City Breakers in there and I saw the guy do the backspin and was like, “Oh my goodness, that’s incredible.” I had a guy—Mark Young, we called him ‘Loco’—who lived on my block and always used to listen or have access to the underground mixtapes and “battle” tapes of all the live hip-hop performances that were in New York City.

I remember hearing Doug E. Fresh beatboxing and sounding like he had rocks in his mouth. I was like, “Wow, that stuff sounds crazy. How does he do that?” I spent a good part of my youth trying to get that Doug E. Fresh sound in my mouth—until I finally got it. That’s what did it for me.

High Times: Once your interest in music was established, how did Naughty By Nature’s formation take shape?

Vin Rock: All three of us [Vin, KayGee, and Treach] were from the same hometown of East Orange, New Jersey, though KayGee and I lived closer together. I lived on 15th Street, he lived on 18th Street. So if you did the math, we were three blocks away from each other, and Treach lived across the way.

There was a train track and you had to go under the trestle, and there were housing projects Little City and Kuzuri. Treach lived over on that side. Kay and I always knew each other and I used to breakdance with his neighbor—a guy named Terry Peppers—who lived directly across the street from Kay. So I was a breakdancer and beatboxer, and after I finished breakdancing with Terry, I would hear Kay DJing on his sun porch. I’d go across the street to Kay, beatbox for him while he DJd.

KayGee is a year older than Treach and I and he was a senior in high school and wanted to participate in his senior talent show. We needed an MC, so I told Kay there’s this guy in my health class who always rhymes to me. Every other day he’s coming with another rhyme while I beatbox—and that was Treach. I brought him over to Kay and we kind of formed the group from there.

At that first talent show, we didn’t even have a name for the group, we were just doing a routine. At the beginning of the routine, Kay scratched in a Beastie Boys “It’s the new style” lyric, and after the show—the show went well—we recapped how it was a great show and how the intro really worked. We were like, “Why don’t we call ourselves The New Style?” That’s when we first really gelled as our first group being The New Style.

High Times: What was the first inclination where you felt the group could actually be something?

DJ KayGee: After we had the initial performance for the senior talent show, we started doing local talent shows and clubs and we started winning them. As we were winning the talent shows—originally they had it where the crowd would judge them—they changed the rules because we kept winning and winning. Other people and other artists started complaining that New Style comes with their built-in audience, that’s why they’re winning. They’re coming with their blocks. So, they started bringing in celebrities and other different people to judge the shows instead of the crowd, and that’s actually when we first met Biz Markie, Cool V and guys like The 45 King and Flavor Unit. Once we started winning those talent shows, we felt like we had something.

High Times: And it sounds like the talent shows also brought you onto the scene where you were able to meet your contemporaries like Biz.

DJ KayGee: And they’re starting to see us and be like, “Wow, those guys are good.”

Vin Rock: It was a process because we weren’t recording at that moment, we were just live performers. We knew we had a group and we saw what was happening with hip-hop, but then it got to the point where we were like, “We can take it seriously and start recording,” and that’s when we thought we could actually have a recording career and evolve beyond just performing locally.

One thing led to another and we met our guy—Mike C—who was a local MC already signed to the old Sugar Hill label. He introduced us to Sylvia Robinson and Joey Robinson, Jr. from Sugar Hill Records and that’s when we started to take ourselves seriously as far as recording artists. We began recording under the name The New Style, and once we had our demo together, we presented it to them and they signed us under The New Style for our first album.

Sugar Hill Records at that time—of course they had Melly Mel, Grandmaster Flash, all of the legendary music—but they were at the tail end of their run. It was almost like signing with Death Row after Death Row was over. Sugar Hill Records ended up changing their name to Bon Ami Records—which was part of a settlement of a lawsuit they had with MCA—and so our album just sat on the shelf and never did anything. But we believed in ourselves and we knew we had more to give, so that was that pivotal moment where we were like we’re not going to give up. We pursued Mark The 45 King and Queen Latifah from The Flavor Unit because they were our contemporaries right in our own backyard. We wanted to get down with The Flavor Unit and began auditioning for them, threw a party for ourselves and invited Flavor Unit over, and then once Flavor Unit signed us to Flavor Unit Management, we changed our name to Naughty By Nature. That was the moment we were like, “Now we really have to go for it.”

High Times: And you didn’t let the business stuff discourage you from pursuing what you knew you had.

DJ KayGee: While we were with Bon Ami, we did a whole album, and we thought we did okay with it. It was the beginning stages—and like Vin said—we had never been in the studio. We weren’t fully, fully developed yet but we did think we had something to start off with. People were starting to say “You guys have something, you guys have something.”

We felt like we sort of got the short end of the stick coming out under Bon Ami, but at the same time, we learned how to get better and where to record. Within that process, we started paying for the studio time ourselves and started really developing what you hear—and what you heard—as Naughty By Nature. That’s when we started working on “O.P.P.” and all of those records while still doing talent shows and getting better and better. Not only did we feel we had perfected how to perform live, we had started to come into our own in the studio as well.

After we were feeling zoned in after that first album—Naughty By Nature—that’s when we did the whole thing with The Flavor Unit and threw our own party and met with them. At that point, we had “O.P.P.” and knew we had a bomb with it and knew that once we had some better people with us, we’d be able to break through. We were rocking crowds without a record, so if we took the whole thing and put it together, put it on wax, and then did what we could do with a record that people knew, we would be unstoppable. We just needed to get the politics to kick us through the door, and Flavor Unit was the politics.

Vin Rock: I would say one of the biggest catalysts for us back then were—they call them “haters” today—but back in the day, they’d call them “sleepers,” the people who were sleeping on you—the doubters. I remember when we had the twelve-inch single as The New Style called “Scuffin’ Those Knees,” then we had the album which we put up in a local sandwich shop—Sandwiches Unlimited. We were just coming out of high school and we were the hometown heroes, but the album never really broke through, so a lot of people were like, “Nah, they didn’t make it, they’ll never make it.” That really pissed us off and made us be like, “You know what? We really have to prove to these haters that we can make it.”

High Times: You took that sleep, took that hate, and turned it into something positive that ended up being a success.

DJ KayGee: Definitely. We were starting to hone in and perfect it all. At that point, it was just like, “We really love this.” There’s no turning back. Once you start doing it, you start creating and enjoying it. It came from just being a part-time hobby to being something that became a profession that we took really seriously.

High Times: And by taking it seriously, you were simply taking your live crowd-rocking abilities and recording them in a way that more people could consume.

DJ KayGee: That’s why when you hear the records we’ve made they’ve always been call-and-response or party-driven records. We come from that era and that style of artists. Period. We had to rock crowds and win people over without a record.

High Times: Which is different from how it’s done today.

DJ KayGee: They don’t do that anymore. People just put records out and then they throw you on the stage after. There is no honing of the skills, taking your losses. We got “booed” plenty of times coming up. We’ve been through all of that. A lot of these [new] guys—and it’s not their fault—it’s just music has changed now.

Vin Rock: As a matter of fact, last night we all went over to DaDa’s birthday party and guess who was there? Big Stan, yo. He’s the promoter who booked us at Red Alert’s birthday party when we were The New Style—just before we transitioned to Naughty By Nature.

We’re from New Jersey, and back then, it was all about the five boroughs of New York City and they were so possessive of hip-hop. If you weren’t from the five boroughs, don’t even think about coming into New York saying you’re a rapper because you are literally uninvited.

Because of KayGee’s older brother, he had a relationship with this guy Stan, who was a big promoter back then. Stan had thrown DJ Red Alert’s birthday party and the who’s who of hip-hop was there: KRS-One, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Tribe Called Quest—you name them, they were there. And [Stan] gave us a shot as being Jersey artists coming into New York City for Red Alert’s birthday party. Well, we get in the venue, I grab the mic and say,  “What’s up, y’all. Jersey’s in the house! They booed us endlessly. We couldn’t get through our routine, we played the first record and they booed booed booed booed booed. We had to just stop the show and step off. The weirdest thing about it was that it was winter time. When we drove into New York City, the roads were clear. After we got booed, we went outside and there was three feet of snow. We had the longest ride back to Jersey. 

High Times: An experience like that teaches you something.

Vin Rock: Oh it taught us everything. At that point, it was not only our peers and high school mates who were doubting us—although we had a healthy support system and had a lot of people rocking with us—it was those one or two comments like “Ah, you’re crap” or whatever that make you feel like they’re screwing you over. We had the hometown that we had to prove to that we could break through, and then we went into New York City knowing we were outcasts and knowing New York City wasn’t checking for any Jersey rappers. We may as well have been from Alabama back then. When we went to New York and got booed, it just lit that fire under us and we were like, “Nah, man. We’re really going to get these guys.”

We called them sleepers and made songs like “Thankx for Sleepwalking,” and as we evolved into Naughty By Nature, we made bedsheets and pillow cases so people could “sleep” on us literally [laughs].

High Times: And profit off their snoozing.

Vin Rock: On our second album, we had the inserts there for Naughty By Nature merchandise. Tommy Boy Records had the inserts and we literally sold the bedsheets in the cassettes and CDs back then. In the “Hip Hop Hooray” video, there’s a scene where Treach is in bed and he pulls the sheet over and it’s Naughty By Nature bed sheets. We definitely monetized it.

Courtesy Naughty By Nature

High Times: In terms of “Hip Hop Hooray,” it’s now the 30th anniversary of the track and the album 19 Naughty III. What went into the track and album at that time?

DJ KayGee: Number one, it was the second album and a lot of people—and I’m sure even Tommy Boy—probably weren’t sure what they had in us yet. Everybody was always worried about the “sophomore jinx,” like is it a one album or one record fluke. Can you really get through, or is it a one-hit-wonder thing.

We were out touring and touring and touring—”O.P.P.”, “Uptown Anthem,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”—we had all of those records, so we were on tour for like a year and a half straight. Tommy Boy was telling Flavor Unit, “The guys need to get in and get a new record. We need to capitalize off the success of the first album. What’s up?” So we were working but we didn’t really feel any pressure. Like I said, we felt like we knew what we were doing. We knew what we were doing and we were just gonna do what we do. We weren’t going to be stuck or try to be something that we weren’t, we were just going to make our records. And that’s what we did.

Even going into “Hip Hop Hooray,” we didn’t approach it trying to make a big record or trying to do anything. It was just another track, another chorus, another idea. Once it was done we knew we had another monster, but it was just like, “Hey, we’re going to work our records.” And even with that, we knew we had a good record but never even handed the record in.

We went up to KMEL in the Bay Area and were doing a radio show for their Summer Jam and were just like, “Yo, let’s test this record out.” We performed the record there and that’s where the whole hands up “Hey, Ho” came from. Treach just started [moving his arms on stage] and the crowd started doing it. So we were like okay, that’s going to carry over.

People went so crazy that the program director called Tommy Boy the next morning and said, “There’s this record that Naughty By Nature performed last night. If you don’t send that to me now, we’re going to play the live version on the radio.” Tommy Boy was calling in to Shakim [Compere] like, “What is going on? What record are they talking about?” And were like, “Oh, that’s ‘Hip Hop Hooray.’ We just have to mix and finish it. We just tried it out out there and it was dope so, yeah, we’ll get it to you soon.”

Vin Rock: Another thing that was so genius about the record “Hip Hop Hooray” was that although we were from Jersey, although we were ostracized coming up, and although New York City didn’t accept us, once we finally broke through and began to get idolized after the first album, we started to win over the New York guys and New York peers. The first single off the second album—”Hip Hop Hooray”—it gave props to hip-hop, and I think it was genius what Treach did.

Instead of being bitter like, “Yeah, look at us now, we’re the shit, blah blah blah,” the song gave props to hip-hop. We shouted out all of our forefathers and that’s what it was—giving props to everyone who came before us, which is why I say to this day that “Hip Hop Hooray” is the ultimate ode to hip-hop.

Even right now as we’re celebrating fifty years in hip-hop, no better record sums up fifty years in hip-hop for me than “Hip Hop Hooray.” It represents inclusion, gives props to the forefathers, and is the ultimate party record.

High Times: Did you know ahead of time that Spike Lee was going to direct the music video?

DJ KayGee: We were just sitting around or something and somebody was like, “What do you think of Spike Lee directing this?” We were just like, “That would be dope.”

Vin Rock: We had rhythm then, so all eyes were on us—and although Tommy Boy was indie—they were a small, strong machine. So they were reaching out, and I’m sure they reached out to Spike Lee. He saw the energy Naughty was kicking out there and we definitely made that happen.

With Spike being from Brooklyn and us being from Jersey, we actually shot in both cities. We shot in Brooklyn, we shot in Jersey, and then we had the cameo list. From Run-D.M.C., Queen Latifah, Monie Love to D-Nice, Eazy-E—you name it.

Funny enough, 2Pac was there on the set, but for some reason he did not make the cut. In the crowd scenes though, 2Pac was there.

DJ KayGee: Yeah, there’s a picture of him standing on the circle thing or whatever.

Vin Rock: I think Pac was just so young in the game [at that time] that he wasn’t really on the map yet. That’s probably a Spike edit, but I’m sure Spike has that raw footage. We’ll have to break into those 40 Acres and a Mule vaults and get that. It would have been dope to do a remix video with that original footage and use edits and cuts that were never in the original video.

DJ KayGee: And a lot of people were at that video.You talk to a lot of our counterparts and they’ll say they were at that video.

High Times: So it was more of a “Who’s Who” event as much as it was a music video for you guys.

Vin Rock: Exactly. It was a party, man. That’s what I remember. I remember it being a party, I remember all of the chicks being around. We were like twenty-three back then.

High Times: In terms of parties, what role did cannabis play in your music creation process and in your personal lives?

Vin Rock: We grew up in the streets, and not to incriminate ourselves, we were street kids. So selling weed was part of coming up. 

DJ KayGee: That was the weed era.

Vin Rock: Especially in the eighties, man. Late eighties.

Vin Rock: Shit, even the mid-eighties. I remember being the stash man when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. Again, I’m the youngest of seven, so there’s a huge age gap. My oldest sister is now sixty-five years old and I’m fifty-two. So with five sisters, Colt 45, playing backgammon, and spades—I’m the youngest guy sitting around. Sipping beer and smoking weed—I picked that up as a thirteen/fourteen year old.

Creatively and musically, one of the most famous lines on one of our records is on “Uptown Anthem.” It starts off with: Hey you could smoke a spliff / On a cliff / But there’s still no mountain hiiiiiigh enough / Or wide enough to touch. It starts off with weed.

We came with “O.P.P.”, then we had “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and then the song “Uptown Anthem” was the single off the Juice soundtrack, which they eventually attached to the first album, but the first bar has to do with weed.

Treach and I are the weed smokers of the group. Kay just sold it [laughs], but it’s always played a role in our creative process.

DJ KayGee: I couldn’t get high on my own supply.

High Times: Did you sell it to Vin and Treach?

DJ KayGee: Absolutely [laughs]. But then it got to the point where I started giving it to them.

Vin Rock: I remember at one point when I was selling, I used to pick up from Kay and then sell our weed in the park and stuff like that. So Kay was the plug back in the day.

DJ KayGee: A little bit of weed never hurt anybody. It’s legal now, but it never hurt anybody.

High Times: Creatively, how did it help you?

Vin Rock: Definitely when you’re performing. You relax, you get in the mood. The combination of weed and some alcohol is all we ever did. It just sets the tone for you to go out and rock the crowd.

Even in the creative process, you could be sober writing rhymes, writing lyrics, coming up with ideas—and then when you want to relax a little more and you blaze a little bit—it gives you a different mindset and you’ll think of things you didn’t necessarily think of when you were sober. After you sober up, you can go back to the material you developed when you were fucking blazed up. It’s a good balance. You come up with what you need to record.

High Times: Another tool in the toolbox.

Vin Rock: Exactly. It’s like another dimension.

Follow @naughtybynature4ever, @unclevinrock, @kaygeebn and check out the 30th anniversary of 19 Naughty III dropping everywhere 2/24.

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Raekwon To Open Hashstoria Cannabis Lounge in Newark, New Jersey

Raekwon, aka Raekwon the Chef of Wu-Tang Clan, will open a Hashstoria dispensary and cannabis lounge on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. The new location will be housed in a historic building in the core of Newark’s Four Corners District located downtown.

Co-founded by Raekwon, Hashstoria is a top-rated brand collective and dispensary chain focused on quality and the consumer experience. Raekwon’s Compliments of the Chef line sold at Hashstoria features merch and clothing representing his values and the flavorful selections he finds. 

Hashstoria dispensary chain, a combination of the words “hashish” and “Astoria” in Oregon. (Astoria is where The Goonies was filmed.) Locations are open in Gladstone and Springfield in Oregon as well. The fourth dispensary location and lounge will open in Newark. 

The historic location’s history stretches back to 1839—once housing one of the oldest clothiers in New Jersey. It’s located across the Street from Prudential Center and Indigo Hotel, and walking distance to Newark Penn Station and Mulberry Commons.

Jersey Digs, providing real estate and development news, first reported that the lounge is slated to open in March. RHG Architecture + Design was hired by Hashstoria and came before Newark’s Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission recently to present plans for facade renovations. 

The application was approved unanimously by the Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission.

The four-story building is an aging landmark in the Four Corners Historic District with lots of character and potential—however “ornamentations” on the first two floors of the building were mostly destroyed over the past several decades.

“There’s been a lot of change over time with this building,” Rachael Grochowski, principal of RHG Architecture + Design told Jersey Digs. “We’re going to have community art in the window that will be changeable. The existing window frames will be painted black to freshen them up and really stand out and coordinate with the signage.”

Developers plan to restore the facade using the same type of bricks used in the remnants of the historic building, along with new windows and headers.

Some commission members initially expressed hesitation with the dispensary and lounge plans, but approved of the latest proposals when a few improvements were made. “I think it looks a whole lot better than what you presented before and I applaud you for it,” Commissioner Richard Grossklaus said.

Wu-Tang Clan members are very familiar with Newark, given they film large chunks of the biopic Wu-Tang: An American Saga in downtown Newark and the South Ward. Raekwon was photographed taking hits from a blunt with Method Man in the August 1996 issue of High Times, one of many appearances. Raekwon also got involved with NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber‘s cannabis brand Players Only with his business partner, Lavetta Willis, joining Quavo, Royce da 5’9″, Matt Barnes, and Jason Williams.

New Jersey’s market is younger than Oregon’s, where the brand first launched.

New Jersey recently became the latest state to allow on-site cannabis consumption, after the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission moved to allow patrons to consume cannabis where it is sold in certain licensed locations. This makes it possible for Hashstoria to open its fourth location in Newark. The company’s website lists a March opening date.

Last November, New Jersey voters approved Public Question 1, ending a three-year effort to approve adult-use cannabis in the state. New Jersey was one of four states—along with Arizona, Montana and South Dakota—to approve an adult-use cannabis bill on election night in 2022.

Check out the dispensary plans on the Hashstoria website.

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New Jersey Q3 Adult-Use Cannabis Sales Top $100 Million

Sales of adult-use cannabis in New Jersey for the third quarter of 2022 topped $100 million, according to recently released data from state officials. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission reported that sales of recreational marijuana from June 2022 through September 2022 totaled $116,572,533, representing a jump of 46% over the previous quarter. Sales of medical cannabis came to $61,138,231 during the same time period, bringing the total for combined medical and recreational marijuana sales to $177,710,764 for Q3 2022.

“New Jersey is only seeing the beginning of what is possible for cannabis” Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), said in a statement from the agency. “We have now awarded 36 annual licenses for recreational cannabis businesses to New Jersey entrepreneurs, including 15 for dispensaries. Those businesses alone will be a significant growth of the market. With more locations and greater competition, we expect the customer base to grow and prices to come down.”

New Jersey now has 20 dispensaries licensed to sell recreational marijuana, which was legalized with a referendum passed by voters in November 2020. Legislation legalizing commercial cannabis activity was passed by lawmakers the following month, and licensed sales of recreational marijuana began in April 2022.

“We are looking forward to seeing local, small business owners participate in this lucrative market,” said CRC chairwoman Dianna Houenou. “Our priority application process as well as new initiatives like the no-cost Cannabis Training Academy being launched by New Jersey Business Action Center in early 2023 are paving that path for them to be included.”

Another 10 dispensaries are licensed to sell medical marijuana to registered medical marijuana patients only. The medicinal use of cannabis was initially legalized in New Jersey in 2010, with subsequent legislation expanding the scope of the state’s medical marijuana program to encompass more patients and medical conditions.

George Archos, the founder and CEO of cannabis multistate operator Verano, said that sales were meeting expectations in New Jersey, where the company operates three Zen Leaf branded dispensaries.

“We’re thrilled to see the continued success of the cannabis industry in New Jersey,” Archos said in an email to NJ Advance Media late Friday. “The impressive revenue growth figures the Cannabis Regulatory Commission released from the third quarter are no surprise, given New Jersey’s large and dense population, robust summer tourism season, and proximity to other states without existing legal adult use cannabis programs.”

New Jersey Pot Retailers Now Face Nearby Competition

While sales of recreational marijuana in New Jersey have grown steadily since launching in April, the state’s weed retailers face new competition from New York, where regulated sales of adult-use cannabis began on December 29. But New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said that he welcomes the expansion of regulated marijuana and that his state’s cannabis industry is ready for the competition from New York’s regulated operators.

“The Governor believes that a fair, regulated adult-use market for cannabis is a critical step toward advancing social justice on behalf of communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition,” Natalie Hamilton, press assistant to Murphy, said in a statement.

“The Governor is proud that New Jersey’s industry is serving as a model for other states in the nation and he looks forward to continuing our efforts to grow a cannabis industry that reflects the diversity of the state, protects access for medical marijuana patients, prioritizes justice, and promotes equal opportunities for communities of color,” added Hamilton.

Charles Gormally, an attorney specializing in cannabis law, said that the launch of retail cannabis sales in New York should be seen by New Jersey’s recreational marijuana industry as an incentive to produce high-quality products as a way to encourage consumers to buy locally.

“If a New York outlet has a great product, or a unique retail experience, or a great price — they certainly will attract market share from New Jersey sources,” said Gormally. “That said, New Jersey is the Garden State. We opened the market before New York, and I suspect when the start-up pain ends, there will be fantastic product, unique retail experiences, and consumption lounges — all of which might attract the New York cannabis consumer.”

“New Jersey should not view New York so much as a competitor but rather as a challenge to supply cannabis connoisseurs what they need to stay local,” he said. “Cannabis is not like a Broadway show after all,” adding, “In the adult use cannabis marketplace, the ultimate ‘spoils’ will belong to those outlets that have the most diverse product mix at the most competitive prices.”

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New Jersey Announces New Cannabis Social Equity Grant Program

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) last week announced the creation of a grant program to help small businesses with the costs associated with launching an enterprise in the state’s regulated cannabis industry. Known as the Cannabis Equity Grant Program, the new initiative will distribute up to $10 million in grants, with the majority earmarked for social equity applicants.

The new grant program was approved by a unanimous vote by the NJEDA board at its monthly meeting last week. In a statement, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the grants will help level the playing field for entrepreneurs from underserved communities to participate in the new economy for recreational marijuana, which was legalized following the passage of a statewide referendum in 2020.

“My Administration is doubling its efforts to cultivate small businesses in burgeoning industries with massive untapped potential,” said Murphy. “The establishment of the Cannabis Equity Grant Program will help aspiring small business owners meet start-up expenses in a pivotal sector within our state’s ever-growing economy. Most importantly, the program will erode considerable barriers to access for communities of color, which this program will help to equip with the resources they need to not just enter, but thrive, in this exciting new industry.”

The program authorizes up to $10 million in grants to small businesses, including $6 million reserved for cannabis social equity applicants, such as those with past convictions for cannabis-related offenses and residents of economically disadvantaged areas. The pilot grant program was authorized by legislation sponsored by Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Budget Committee Chairwoman Eliana Pintor Marin and signed into law by Murphy in June.

“This program can have a positive impact by supporting diversity in New Jersey’s cannabis industry during its formative stages,” Scutari said in a statement. “As the market continues its successful growth, these grants will help provide more opportunities to a greater number of operators in a larger number of communities to participate.” 

$6 Million For Social Equity Applicants

Up to $6 million in grants will be awarded to businesses granted conditional operating licenses from the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) that are located in economically disadvantaged areas and plan to hire 50 or fewer employees. The grants of up to $250,000 can be used by businesses formed after March 2020 in designated impact zones to help cover the start-up costs of launching a licensed cannabis company, including rent, utilities, wages, and regulatory fees. 

“The Governor and Legislature made a commitment that the cannabis market would be accessible to women and minority entrepreneurs,” said Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson. “The cannabis market is meant to be a boon for equity, but we are finding that for some people the cost of entry is too high. It is our hope that this grant program will help to begin leveling the playing field. We want to ensure that those most impacted by the war on drugs and our underserved communities have the opportunity to be a part of the process.”

The impact zones are defined by the CRC as areas with zip codes that meet specified socioeconomic criteria including poverty and unemployment levels and were heavily impacted by arrests for marijuana offenses. Entrepreneurs awarded the grants will also participate in technical assistance and business education courses provided by the NJEDA. Businesses located in impact zones that apply for the grants can have the $1,000 application fee waived.

“Part of the impetus for passing legislation for legalization was recognition that the prohibition of cannabis has, for decades, disproportionately and negatively affected young people in Black and Latino communities,” said Senator Nellie Pou. “As Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus, I am heartened to see NJEDA launch this Cannabis Equity Grant Program to help financially with start-up costs for new businesses in those very communities that have been so adversely affected. This is one more important piece of the social equity contract that remains at the heart of cannabis legalization in New Jersey.”

The remaining $4 million in grant funding will be made available to all business entities that have secured a site for the enterprise and been awarded municipal approval, which are both requirements that must be met to apply for an annual license from the CRC. The application window for the grants will be open for 180 days following the launch of the program, according to state officials.

“We realize how important it is to empower cannabis businesses, many of which have faced barriers to accessing financial capital in the past,” said NJEDA Chief Community Development Officer Tai Cooper. “Communities that suffered unfairly during the criminalization of cannabis need the chance to benefit from new entrepreneurial opportunities created by cannabis legalization and regulated sales. We want to see these opportunities extended to those businesses that will help fill storefronts, warehouses, and other commercial properties that closed their doors during the pandemic and bring new jobs to communities where there is the greatest need.”

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Cory Booker Says Mitch McConnell Is Blocking Cannabis Bills

Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey says that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposed to marijuana policy reform and is blocking cannabis bills from being approved by his Republican colleagues. Booker said that McConnell’s opposition is preventing the passage of marijuana legislation in the upper chamber of Congress before the end of the year, after which control of the House of Representatives will switch to the GOP. 

Cannabis policy reform advocates had hoped to be able to pass meaningful reforms during the current lame-duck session of Congress before control of the House Representatives passes to the Republican Party. But Booker said that McConnell’s opposition to reforms including restorative justice for those harmed by decades of marijuana prohibition and a bill that would allow the legal cannabis industry access to banking services is influencing the stand taken by other GOP senators.

“They’re dead set on anything in marijuana,” Booker told NJ Advance Media. “That to me is the obstacle.”

The Republican party will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the new session of Congress next year after gaining a slight majority in last month’s midterm elections. Cannabis policy reform is not likely to be a legislative priority for GOP leaders, who have been less enthusiastic about marijuana legalization than their Democratic counterparts. If cannabis policy reform advocates do not pass a bill before the end of the year, the change in House leadership makes progress on the issue a long shot for at least the next two years.

Republican Representative Brian Mast of Florida, the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that cannabis policy reform is consistent with traditional Republican values, but McConnell has failed to take a leadership role on the issue.

“It’s not something that he’s historically been interested in moving or seems to be interested in moving right now,” said Mast. “He should. Just as much as Republicans have been out there arguing states’ rights over Roe v. Wade for the last several months, this is just as much of an issue.”

Hopes For Reform Hinge On SAFE Banking Act

Cannabis policy reform is currently largely focused on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would ease access to traditional financial services for regulated marijuana businesses. Provisions of the bill have been passed by the House of Representatives seven times since 2019, but the measure has failed to gain the approval of the Senate. Most recently, language from the SAFE Banking Act was included in the House version of an annual defense spending bill, but the cannabis provisions were left out of the version released last week.

For the Republicans, bipartisan negotiations on cannabis policy reform are being led by Senator Steve Daines, with the goal of drafting a bill that includes restorative justice provisions championed by Booker while gaining the support of enough GOP senators to be approved in the Senate, where 60 votes from the nearly evenly split body of 100 lawmakers are needed to advance most legislation. 

“The senator is doing everything he can to get this bipartisan bill across the finish line this year for the sake of public safety,” said Rachel Dumke, a spokeswoman for Daines’ office.

But Booker thinks that opposition to marijuana policy reform from McConnell, who has been a leader in hemp legalization, is making his fellow Republicans hesitant to support the SAFE Banking Act or a comprehensive legalization bill.

“The caucus is clearly divided but the people in power in their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana,” Booker said.

Cannabis advocate Justin Strekal, the founder of the marijuana policy reform political action committee BOWL PAC, said that he is hopeful that provisions of the SAFE Banking Act can be attached to an upcoming must-pass omnibus spending bill currently being negotiated in Congress. If the cannabis policy reform measures are part of a larger bill, which would fund the federal government through September of next year, Republican senators could vote for the bill without being forced to openly “defy Mitch McConnell in front of him,” Strekal said. 

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New Jersey AG Issues Fresh Guidance on Drug Testing for Law Enforcement

The attorney general of New Jersey last week issued a new directive on drug testing requirements for law enforcement agencies, a necessary update following the launch of the state’s legal cannabis market earlier this year. 

Matthew Platkin, who was confirmed as the state’s AG last month, said that following the opening of the regulated marijuana industry in April, “many law enforcement agencies delayed the random drug testing of officers under the AG Drug Testing Policy to allow time for additional guidance and clarity.”

Under the directive that Platkin issued last Tuesday, law enforcement agencies “must conduct at least two random drug tests during the period from April 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023.”

In each of those two tests, the agencies must test “at least 10 percent of the total number of sworn officers within the agency, and every officer must have an equal chance of selection during each test.”

Those same testing requirements are in place for the period from January 1, 2022 until March 31, 2023, with Platkin’s directive noting that the “two random tests … conducted during the ‘calendar year’ of 2022 shall be extended and interpreted to include the period January 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023,” and that the “two random tests … conducted during the ‘calendar year’ of 2023 shall be amended and interpreted to include the period April 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023.”

The directive continued: “If a law enforcement agency has conducted two random drug tests during calendar year 2022, and then conducts a test during the period, January 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023, that third test may count toward the 2023 requirement of two tests. To summarize, law enforcement agencies must conduct a total of at least four random drug tests between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2023.”

Platkin said that in March 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the state AG’s office “sought to ease the administrative burden on New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies by suspending or delaying certain statewide reporting, training, and certification deadlines.”

Voters in the Garden State approved a ballot measure in 2020 that legalized adult-use cannabis. In April, New Jersey launched the regulated retail marijuana market. 

With the new changes in effect, state regulators have been forced to tweak certain rules and practices, including workplace drug testing. 

Last month, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which oversees the state’s legal marijuana program, announced updated guidance for drug testing, saying effectively that employers still have the right to test their workers.

“The purpose of this guidance is to clarify and explain the NJ-CRC’s understanding of the existing legal requirements under the governing law,” the commission said in the announcement at the time. “This guidance does not impose any additional requirements that are not included in the law and does not establish additional rights for any person or entity. Please note, however, that adverse employment actions may impact employees’ protected rights under various laws including, but not limited to, state and federal anti-discrimination laws. When incorporating this guidance, employers should ensure compliance with all state and federal employment laws.”

The commission said that “employees cannot be acted against solely due to the presence of cannabis in their body, but employers have the right to drug test on reasonable suspicion of impairment.”

Jeff Brown, the executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, said in the announcement that it was important to show that striking “a balance between workplace safety and work performance and adult employees’ right to privacy and to consume cannabis during their off hours is possible.”

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Rutgers Law School Adds Cannabis Law, Business Certificate for 2023

Registration has already opened for the Cannabis Law and Business certificate of study, which will officially commence in January 2023. Those accepted will spend six months learning the ins and outs of the New Jersey weed sector, with an emphasis on the stringent and often complicated regulations which prospective business owners need to be familiar with.

“This is the first program that Rutgers Law School has developed to support participants who are not [law] students or legal professionals,” a press release from the university said. “The curriculum has been developed specifically for New Jersey’s legal cannabis industry, making it highly specific to the needs of the local community.”

The program will be mostly online with two in-person sessions and has two certificate options for cultivators and retailers respectively. The entire course can be taken for $2,695 or individual topics of study can be purchased for between $600-$850. A limited number of scholarships may also be available to anyone applying for a cannabis-related social equity business license in New Jersey.

Rutgers Co-Deans Kimberly Mutcherson and Rose Cuison-Villazor said in a joint statement that “This new certificate is exactly the kind of work that we want to be doing as New Jersey’s state law school. Now that the state legislature has legalized the cannabis industry here, we want to ensure that we can provide crucial information to the citizens of New Jersey who want to enter this business, especially those from communities that traditionally bore the brunt of punitive outcomes before legalization.”

The six available class modules are as follows:

  1. Fundamentals of cannabis regulation in New Jersey – The history of legal marijuana in New Jersey with an emphasis on the CREAMM Act
  2. Regulatory compliance – Protecting your license by running a compliant cannabis business
  3. Cannabis business operations – Banking, branding, licensing, and more
  4. Locations and local government – A big challenge in New Jersey specifically where 70% of local municipalities initially opted out of allowing recreational marijuana
  5. Retail or Cultivation – Students choose one or the other depending on what kind of business they want to open
  6. Capstone project – A final project such as a business plan or an investor pitch with feedback from expert faculty

The announcement from Rutgers comes on the heels of New Jersey’s recreational cannabis market opening its doors in April, amid heavy speculation and concern surrounding the availability of product. However, other than some long lines, no one has reported running out of cannabis yet. That said, many in New Jersey have said that between licensing holdups, high property costs, and stringent zoning laws, New Jersey is not an easy place to open a cannabis business to say the least.

Rutgers is the latest in a relatively small number of universities that have elected to add cannabis studies of some kind to their class offerings. Though most cannabis-related college programs are either certificate-based or minor degrees; Cal Poly Humboldt, CSU Pueblo, and Lake Superior State University remain some of the few to create 4-year BA programs with the word cannabis in the title.

Not to be an ass or anything, but I feel obligated to disclose here that cannabis is still entirely prohibited from Rutgers University property due to its continued federal illegality, despite being legal for adult-use in New Jersey. To register for the program, click here.

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