TRENTON — State officials can restart the process of awarding licenses for two dozen medical marijuana dispensaries, after an appeals court Thursday lifted a 2019 order that halted the process when some rejected applicants objected.

A dozen disqualified applicants saw their appeals rejected. One challenge was upheld and sent back to the Health Department for another review, from ZY Labs of Hillside.

New dispensaries won’t be open any time soon, as it will probably take months for the state to complete its review of nearly 150 qualified applicants and award 24 licenses. Those selected then have to outfit their buildings, in some cases get permission to grow marijuana and have security plans approved.

Expanding medical marijuana

But Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, welcomed the court ruling as beneficial for residents and patients.

“This will be expanding the program greatly and meeting more of the needs of the patients of the state of New Jersey,” Wolski said.

“We should expect to see more alternative treatment centers to go to, less of an effort to get to these alternative treatment centers in terms of driving,” he said. “They should see a greater availability of different strains of marijuana that are available at the alternative treatment centers and hopefully they’ll even be able to see some prices come down.”

Rejected applications for new centers

The appeals weren’t about the scoring on the merits but rather the technical grounds on which some applications were rejected. In six cases, the state couldn’t open file attachments. Two were submitted late. Four applicants didn’t respond to one of the criteria.

“I was very surprised when the initial court issued a stay in the agency’s decision, simply because courts typically grant great deference to executive branch departments,” Wolski said.

Wolski said he used to score applications for the Department of Health while on loan from his position as health services manager at the Department of Corrections, a position from which he retired in 2006. He said the scorers are knowledgeable and vetted to ensure they don’t have conflicts of interest.

“It’s an open and aboveboard process that’s used, and I was surprised that it was delayed as long as it has been to implement the expansion of the medical marijuana program,” he said.

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The ZY Labs application was revived because although it lacked a written approval of the project from local officials in Hillside, it did include endorsements from community members.

There are currently 13 dispensaries in the state. The program has close to 100,000 patients, 3,600 caregivers and 1,250 physicians enrolled.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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