Happy holidays, everyone!
2021 was a historic year, what with the adult-use weed bill signed into law and a regulatory body establishing rules to follow.
On Dec. 15, the day the state opened its virtual doors for license applications, Jeff Brown, the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s executive director, declared, ”We can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry.”
A lot happened this year in the cannabis space, and we were with you every inch of the way. Despite the pandemic affecting our daily lives, we were able to offer you virtual conferences and meetups early in the year, and then we were able to see you in-person for the first time since early 2020 in July for a meetup, and again in September for our biggest conference, yet.
I hope you’ve made as many new friends in the space this year, as we have.
We have a lot look forward to in 2022. Some of the storylines we’ll be following with be familiar:
- Will the state be able to fulfill its promise to prioritize minority ownership, especially for Black and brown entrepreneurs who were hurt by the War on Drugs?
- On that note, will the state do enough to help social equity applicants with the resources they need not only be competitive but to thrive?
- Will NIMBY municipalities see the light and open their doors to a flourishing industry?
- Nick Scutari, the state senator who led the charge for legalization, will soon be Senate president. Will he get in the way of cannabis progress or continue to lead legislatively?
- Home cultivation, also known as homegrow is still not legal. Why?
- Universal labeling of cannabis products seems practical, what’s the hold up?
- NJ Weedman told me he wants to pay taxes on the weed he sales. Will legacy operators like him be able to transition into a legal market, or is federal legalization the only pathway?
- How soon after the market opens will Impact Zones see the benefits of legalization?
- How will police enforcement reconcile with a growing movement to clear people’s weed-related criminal records while simultaneously training officers to pullover people they believe are high?
Did you see Pfizer entered the cannabis space with a $6.7 billion cash deal? How will Big Pharma affect the industry?
There are many other stories percolating in our notebooks, bubbling like a finely tuned bong. We welcome your input on where else we need to shed some light.
In the meantime, enjoy our year-in-review issue. We give you a timeline of what transpired in New Jersey and summaries of what’s happening in DC, NY and PA.
I also have a special message about what we’re doing for you next year.
Cannabis industry activities 2022 will kickoff out of the gate, with the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission holding its first meeting of the year on Friday, Jan. 7.
NJ Cannabis Insider will be there for every minute to report and analyze the latest developments.
We use our events not only for you to meet and network, but as a forum to dissect the industry news that affects us all. Check out our 2022 calendar, and use the subscriber discount to sign up.
We’re off next week, and return the first week in January with a preview of who and what to watch in 2022.
On behalf of the entire NJ Cannabis Insider team, I wish you and your loved ones safe and health these holidays and into the new year.
— Enrique Lavin
(Photo by Amanda Brown | For NJ Cannabis Insider)
2022 will be our busiest. Here’s what we have in store:
First, allow me to thank each and every one of you and your operations for subscribing, reading our content, using our text-messaging service, following our LinkedIn and attending many of our events.
When we launched in 2018, our mission was to be the No. 1 source of information for all things legal cannabis. Our service journalism aims to inform you and connect you with the right people so your operations can not only grow but thrive.
Many of you have been with us since Day 1, and many more of you have come onboard since things started picking up a year ago. Can’t wait to celebrate our 200th edition with you sometime next year!
In early 2021, we hired our new lead reporter and your new best friend, Jelani Gibson.
Our new best friend, Jelani Gibson. (Photo by Diana McElroy | For NJ Cannabis Insider)
Throughout the year, we’ve experimented with content and partnerships, bringing on new freelancers (Tauhid Chappell, Diana McElroy and Gabrielle Warren, to name a few). I’m pleased to say that Rob Mejia, a serial entrepreneur and an adjunct professor at Stockton University, will be a regular contributor in 2022 with his own column: Prof. Mejia’s Weed Corner.
Our events team, led by the indefatigable Kristen Ligas, has expanded. Joining her are events coordinator Niyala Shaw and events sponsorships sales associate Heather Long.
Niyala Shaw and Heather Long
This year, you also met NJ.com’s veteran marketing and ads sales guru Jeff Horn (see his column in Issue 187).
And while we said farewell to the NJ.com reporter who held our hand through legalization during the 2020 and 2021 election cycles (thanks Amanda Hoover!), we’re thrilled that we’ll be announcing the arrival of a new team member in early January.
This reporter will be based out of the Statehouse in Trenton alongside Sue Livio to continue covering how the proverbial sausage is made and beyond. Washington correspondent Jonathan D. Salant will keep sending us dispatches from DC.
We’re also hiring another NJ Cannabis Insider reporter to cover cannabis culture, commerce and retail. Watch out for the job posting in a couple of weeks.
2022 will be the biggest year yet in the cannabis industry, and here’s how we’re planning to serve you:
- More exclusive cannabis coverage with our expanded teams, contributors and partnerships.
- We continuously hear how important our events are, so we’ve added more to our 2022 calendar, making sure we visit different parts of the state.
- That means more networking opportunities to connect with people, plus two career fairs.
- Subscribers (that’s you!) will continue to get first dibs on our events (we have big waiting lists each time) and we’ll be offering bigger discounts in 2022.
- More ways to get your brand and company in front of the cannabis industry. We’ll have more articles on NJ.com in 2022, more ways to showcase at events, and an all-time high number of engaged subscribers who read our product.
- Plus, we are offering exclusive discounts for subscribers on certain sponsorship packages. (Make sure you let us know you’re a subscriber when you call.)
Check out the 2022 events calendar inside this edition.
You’ll be the first to know when we add to our staff list, which we publish at the bottom of every edition. Let us know what more we can do for you, and you’ll know we’ll do our best to make it happen.
Looking forward to serving you in 2022 – let’s continue growing together!
— Enrique Lavin
Screenshot of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commissions’ April 12, 2021 virtual meeting during Executive Director Jeff Brown’s presentation.
Cannabis legalization finally got real in 2021
On paper, that is.
There is still no licensed market, no product sold through the state other than through medicinal marijuana dispensaries. No one will venture a guess as to when that may change, even as the state targeted early 2022 for the consumer market to open.
But relatively speaking, for New Jersey, we came a long way in 2021.
Here’s a recap of what happened.
Feb. 22: Gov. Phil Murphy signs three bills into law that will legalize the possession and sale of cannabis, put an end to marijuana arrests and create civil penalties for minors who are caught with the drug. It took three months of tense and often frantic negotiations to arrive at a compromise with the Legislature.
Feb. 23: Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announces he has directed law enforcement officials to stop making arrests for minor weed crimes and to drop pending cases immediately.
Feb. 25: Murphy announces his final appointments for the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will oversee the adult use market and medicinal marijuana program. Leaders of the state NAACP openly criticize the Murphy administration for failing to include as members a Black man and someone directly connected to a group that fights racial injustice.
March 24: Murphy appoints Charles Barker, a staffer for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker to the commission in response to the NAACP’s criticism. Barker replaces William Wallace of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
April 12: The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) holds its first public meeting.
April 13: The New Jersey Supreme Court rules unanimously that a construction company must pay for an injured employer’s medical cannabis bills, a major victory for registered patients.
June 15: The state Attorney General sends cease and desist letters to four marijuana gifting and delivery businesses, warning them they are operating outside state law.
July 12: The state court system announces 88,000 marijuana convictions have been dismissed or vacated, the first wave in a sea of 360,000 identified that qualify for expungement.
Aug. 19: The commission unveils the preliminary set of rules that will govern the legal cannabis industry. The rules describe a process that will give priority treatment to social equity businesses, those in “impact zones,” or municipalities unevenly affected by marijuana prohibition, and to those run by women, racial minorities and disabled veterans.
Aug. 21: Today is the deadline for municipal officials to have enacted an ordinance either banning cannabis businesses or accepting them. If they did nothing, they must wait five years before they are allowed to pass legislation stating a preference. Without the benefit of seeing the state rules governing the industry, about 400 of the 565 communities approve a ban. They are allowed to rescind the ordinance at any time.
Sept. 13: Two men arrested on marijuana offenses in a school zone file a class-action lawsuit in state Superior Court alleging these arrests disproportionately target Black people. Nearly the entirety of Newark, Camden and Jersey City, cities where a high concentration of minorities live, is located in a school zone.
Sept. 14: The commission approves the ownership transfer of Garden State Dispensary, one of the six original medical marijuana alternative treatment centers, to Ayr Wellness, a multistate operator. The commission also approves Harmony Foundation to open a satellite dispensary in Hoboken.
Oct. 15: The commission announces the winners of 14 new medicinal marijuana growers, a process that began two years ago that was waylaid losers filing multiple lawsuits challenging the selection process.
Gov. Phil Murphy, left and his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, on Election Night. Ciattarelli refused to concede until Nov. 15. (Photo by Tim Hawk | NJ Advance Media)
Nov. 3: Gov. Murphy is declared the winner of a surprising close election, with Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli coming within 3 percentage points of a major upset. Ciattarelli did not support legalization and had he won, it’s not clear what he would have done to develop the nascent industry.
Nov. 12: State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, sponsor of the marijuana legalization and the medicinal marijuana laws, wins the support of his fellow Senate Democrats to be the next Senate President.
Nov. 23: The commission releases a list of zip codes for areas that qualify as Impact Zones and Economically Disadvantaged Areas — designations that are designed to promote business ownership from people who come from low-income areas or from communities disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests and convictions.
Screenshot of the CRC meeting on Dec. 7, 2021 with Chairwoman Dianna Houenou going over what’s in store for 2022.
Dec. 7: The commission announces the recipients of 30 new medicinal marijuana dispensary licenses, with 10 each in north, central and south Jersey. This is double the number of licensees the state first advertised in 2019. Considering that more than 5,000 patients enroll every month, there should be 61 dispensaries to serve the 121,000 registered patients, according to a commission analysis. There are just 23 operating now.
Dec.15: The state begins accepting applications from cannabis growers, manufacturers and testing labs for the adult use market. “We are happy to reach this milestone,” Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown said. “Applications are coming in, the platform is performing well, and we can officially mark the launch of the state’s recreational cannabis industry.”
— Susan K. Livio | NJ.com
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker speaks at the N.J. Chamber of Commerce Congressional Dinner in Washington, DC on Feb. 27, 2020. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media)
Another disappointing year as the wait continues for a bill
Cannabis advocates ended 2021 the same way they ended the previous year: Waiting for legislation.
While Democrats now control both houses of Congress and the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, supports ending the federal ban on cannabis, there is still no bill on President Joe Biden’s desk.
And efforts to pass incremental legislation, most notably the SAFE Banking Act, stalled in a Democratic Senate the same way it did when Republicans were in control, as Schumer, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker seek to draft a comprehensive bill rather than take one step at a time.
“I’m disappointed in the progress so far,” said Chris Lindsey, vice president of policy for the U.S. Cannabis Council. “NASA wanted to go to the moon in the ’60s, and they did get there. But they didn’t do it in a single shot. They got to orbit and they built on that success.
“With something as broad as federal legalization, we will face a similar effort. We will get there, but it will be a combined effort and steady progress, starting with legislation like SAFE Banking.”
While the House passed SAFE Banking in April, it has yet to take up the MORE Act, the comprehensive marijuana bill it passed in the last Congress.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that the House has had plenty of other things to deal with.
The House has passed legislation to help an economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and to rebuild America’s infrastructure, impeached Donald Trump a second time for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and rebuked two Republican lawmakers for threatening violence against their fellow House members in addition to keeping the government open and increasing the debt ceiling.
“We’ve been a little busy in the House,” Blumenauer said. “There’s been a very crowded agenda.”
The MORE Act could come up when Congress returns in January, said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“We have every reason to expect the House to take up the full package early in the new year,” he said.
Even without legislation, progress is being made, said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association.
“The conversation is moving in the right direction and is becoming increasingly bipartisan, particularly among newer lawmakers who understand that this is what the American people want,” Fox said.
In the absence of federal action, more states are moving by themselves to legalizing cannabis.
— Jonathan D. Salant | NJ.com
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at an event, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021, in New York. (Mary Altaffer | AP Photo)
2021 was ‘just the beginning’
On March 31, the Empire State legalized recreational cannabis for anyone 21 and older. Medical cannabis had been legal since 2014. Marijuana can only be bought at a licensed dispensary or grown at home for personal use only.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took over for Gov. Andrew Cuomo in August after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, has been supportive of the state Legislature’s passage of the adult-use legalization bill, saying in a September speech: “Your success means the success of this entire state. So count me in as an ally — someone who’s going to be there for you, who will fight for you to make sure that we do not lose out to any competition,” she said, “whether it’s in the space of cannabis, where I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs and new industries, to be created that were not even focused on.”
But before New Yorkers can obtain legal cannabis, the state must adopt rules and regulations.
Crystal Peoples-Stokes, New York state’s Assembly majority leader, in conversation with NJ Cannabis Insider reporter Jelani Gibson interview during NY Cannabis Insider’s May 20, 2021 virtual event.
“Passing legislation was just the beginning,” wrote Crystal Peoples-Stokes, majority leader in the New York state Assembly, in an opinion piece published Dec. 23. People-Stokes co-authored the Empire State’s legalization bill with state Sen. Liz Krueger. “Now, the hard work commences for the appointees to the Office of Cannabis Management. OCM Chair Tremaine Wright, Executive Director Chris Alexander and Board Members Adam Perry, Jen Metzger, Reuben R. McDaniel III and Jessica Garcia have all distinguished themselves with demonstrated commitments to legalization anchored in justice, equity and sustainability. Carefully selected, these appointees are already honoring our intentions with fair, inclusive and just regulations.”
— NJ Cannabis Insider staff
Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his 2020-21 budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the chamber of the House of Representatives, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Feb. 4, 2020. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is behind him to his left, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is at his right. (Photo by Dan Gleiter |PennLive.com)
In 2021, bipartisan lawmakers agreed, ‘It’s inevitable’
Medical marijuana is legal in the commonwealth, but there was plenty of movement this year to expand the program and created a regulated marketplace for adult-use.
In early October, Republican state Sen. Mike Regan, a former U.S. marshal who spent years upholding the War on Drugs, called for legalization. His bill focuses solely on legalizing cannabis. It would allow adults 21 years of age or older to buy and possess “a personal amount” of cannabis.
“I think it’s inevitable,” he said. “It’s common sense to think we’re going to do it at some time and it should be done smart.”
Meanwhile, a day later, a bipartisan Senate bill to legalize cannabis was formally introduced after details were first announced in February. Introduced by state Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican, and state Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat, the bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, and smaller quantities of concentrate and cannabis-infused products.
In late October, state Rep. Melissa Shusterman introduced a bill to expand the number of medical cannabis cultivators in the state.
Shusterman said, in a press release, she believes that because of the laws in place about how many growers can be in one geographic zone, the monopoly of several big corporations over this industry has created a supply shortage, which drives up prices and hurts consumers who need their prescribed medication.
“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have trouble accessing medication prescribed by a doctor for relief from pain and sickness,” Shusterman said. “The restrictions placed on growers and processors hurts small businesses, farmers and patients alike.”
On Nov. 17, Laughlin and Street announced they were sponsoring legislation to allow Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients to grow a limited number of cannabis plants from their home for personal use.
“It is critical that policy meet people where they are, and by allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis plants at home, we can help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine,” Laughlin said in a statement. “This legislation would go a long way towards helping everyday Pennsylvanians meet their health needs and ensuring everyone is treated equitably and fairly under Act 16.”
A handful of other senators have also introduced their own legalization bills, each measure broadly seeking to end criminalization and create a regulated market.
Gov. Tom Wolf and and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have been pushing for legalization to generate more money for the state and to address social justice concerns of people getting criminal records for possession.
— NJ Cannabis Insider staff
Cannabis higher education is no longer a novelty in New Jersey
By Rob Mejia, a regular contributor to NJ Cannabis Insider, is an adjunct professor at Stockton University where he teaches the cannabis courses. He is also the author of “The Essential Cannabis Book” and “The Essential Cannabis Journal.” His cannabis education company is called Our Community Harvest.
On Dec. 15, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission began to accept applications for adult-use cultivation, processing and lab licenses. Within hours, roughly 500 online accounts had been created and by the end of the day this number climbed to more than 600.
Potential cannabis business owners have been spending months — and in some cases years — preparing to open cannabis businesses. And as these New Jersey businesses are being built and starting their operations, they represent major employment opportunities.
Like any other business, cannabis employers need workers with specialized skills along with those who are willing to learn and hustle. For example, a cultivation operation needs a Master Grower who has experience setting up and running large scale, sustainable cultivation operations, a processor needs experts with a combination of product development and management experience, and a lab needs lead scientists with an elevated level of cannabis and testing knowledge. Collaborating with these experts are many rank and file and support employees too.
But unlike traditional businesses, only recently is a pipeline of cannabis talent being developed at community colleges, colleges, and universities. Like cannabis business opportunities in New Jersey, opportunities for cannabis education in higher education institutions are expanding rapidly.
Here is a summary of the landscape of cannabis education offerings in New Jersey.
Few institutions of higher education are offering college credit for cannabis and hemp courses but there are a few.
One school that stands out is Stockton University (full disclosure, I am an Adjunct Professor there) because we offer a Minor in Cannabis Studies. Students come from many diverse majors with the most popular majors having roots in health, business, and environment/sustainable studies. To date, Stockton University, in Galloway, remains the only New Jersey university to offer a cannabis minor (no New Jersey colleges offer a cannabis major) but we are seeing increased interest and activity at other schools.
For example, Rowan University Institute for Cannabis Research, Policy, & Workforce Development (RPWD) in Glassboro is in the exploratory and initial development stages of creating a master’s level cannabis curriculum. The curriculum is likely to be business and science focused as Rowan has a strong business and chemistry program. Their initiatives are led by tireless Assistant Dean of Business Jennifer Maden.
On the undergraduate level, a few individual cannabis courses are being offered:
- Rider University offers a course called “Reefer Madness: From Panic to Profit”
- Rutgers University offers a couple courses including “Hemp and Medical Cannabis” and “Cannabis: From Counterculture to Cure-All” and surely other undergraduate cannabis courses are in development now.
But most of the activity in higher education cannabis curriculum is taking place in Continuing Studies/Adult Education Departments.
Several schools including Stockton University, Raritan Valley CC, Bergen County CC, Atlantic Cape CC, and Mercer County CC all offer varying levels of non-credit courses from individual in person classes to fully online, self-paced cannabis certificates provided by their Continuing Studies Department. These classes were prepared by either outside vendors or college staff.
Common for-credit and non-credit continuing education cannabis courses include:
- Introduction to Cultivation
- Medical Cannabis
- Cannabis Law
- Dispensary Training/Operations
- Social Justice and Cannabis
- Cannabis Business
- Cannabis Internship Preparation
- The Science of Cannabis
The major reasons that higher education institutions are embracing cannabis curriculum is that cannabis is a job creator, it drives enrollment, and cuts across disciplines. So, while you may joke that you “majored” in cannabis in college, now our New Jersey students and adults can get authentic cannabis education that may lead to a vibrant, engaging once-in-a-lifetime career.
Another aspect of cannabis education that is sometimes overlooked are cannabis events, seminars, and even career fairs. Look for more New Jersey colleges to offer expungement clinics, application seminars, and general cannabis panels in 2022.
You are also invited to save the date of April 5 on your calendar as Stockton University will be offering a spring cannabis career and business fair in collaboration with NJ Cannabis Insider and the New Jersey CannaBusiness Assn.
Prof. Mejia’s Weed Corner is a regular column for NJ Cannabis Insider, focusing on news, trends and innovation in the local cannabis market. Reach out to him at Robert.Mejia@stockton.edu
2022, here we come!
Our very first networking event is Jan. 19 in Jersey City. Use subscriber code NJCISUB for $20 off the listed price. (Register here.) It will feature a panel discussion about real estate, cultivation and equity with:
- Chirali Patel, an attorney and founder of education platform Blaze Responsibly
- Darrin Chandler Jr., a recent license applicant, a real estate consultant and president of Premium Genetics
- Sarah Trent, an attorney, founder of NJ Cannabis Certified and recent provisional awardee for a dispensary license with her company Valley Wellness.
Sponsors for this event so far include:
Paychex, a leading provider of integrated human capital management solutions for payroll, benefits, human resources, and insurance services.
5S Security, from a single door guard to a facility team of 50, the firm ensures rigorous ongoing training, cutting-edge protocols, and tactical expertise for the highest levels of protection and professionalism in the industry.
We are looking for proposals for sponsorships and CannaTalks. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Enrique Lavin or Kristen Ligas.
Measures we’re taking to ensure your safety:
Following state and federal guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety, we are requiring attendees to provide proof of vaccination and to wear a mask except while eating or drinking.
Here’s our 2022 calendar:
Jelani Gibson is the lead reporter for Cannabis Insider. He previously covered gun violence for the Kansas City Star.
Susan K. Livio is a Statehouse reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com who covers health, social policy and politics
Jonathan D. Salant is Washington correspondent for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com.