TRENTON – Through its Business Action Center, New Jersey plans to establish a Cannabis Training Academy to help small businesses break into the industry.

The initiative is being funded by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission, through a portion of the sales tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana sales. It will roll out in the first half of 2023.

Melanie Willoughby, executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center, said the academy will provide no-cost technical assistance, training and mentorship to applicants for recreational marijuana business licenses.

“We really feel this is important to ensure that applicants in the social equity, legacy, impact zone, diversely owned and microbusiness categories get the support they need,” Willoughby said. “Their successful participation is critical to really ensure equitable representation of small and diverse cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs.”

“We believe this assistance is an essential part of our work really repair the damage to people and neighborhoods that were marginalized and subjected to mass criminalization during the state’s cannabis prohibition,” she said.

Willougby said her office has been working for months with industry groups on what should be in the Cannabis Training Academy.

It will have a 10-week core curriculum, consisting of prerecorded webinars followed by live question-and-answer sessions twice a month. The state Invites people who work in the industry to apply to be mentors at njstart.gov.

“We really feel that that mentorship aspect is very, very important for people to be able to identify what their needs are, where we can help answer those questions,” Willoughby said.

“For those who are new to this, we want to be there for them,” she said.

Registration for the academy hasn't opened, but the state created a signup list for receiving updates.

So far, all of the businesses in New Jersey selling recreational marijuana since its launch in April are corporate-owned medical dispensaries that got permission to expand their operations. There are 20 currently selling marijuana to all adults, as of this week.

The state has approved 801 conditional licenses for recreational marijuana businesses, though none of those have yet received operating licenses to actually open their doors.

Last week, 18 applications for the annual licenses were approved, but more information needs to be provided for those businesses – which include eight growers, seven retailers and three manufacturers – to actually get their licenses.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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