Another town OKs cannabis shop amid NJ backlog for retail marijuana permits
NEWTON — A Sussex County municipality is moving forward with local approvals for a retail cannabis shop, even as the state continues to lag on allowing any “legal weed” sales beyond expansions of medical dispensaries.
In Newton, an adult-use marijuana dispensary at 117 Water St. has gotten green lights from the Newton Township Council and Land Use Board, according to Town Manager Thomas Russo Jr., and also has also paid its municipal fee.
At the state level though, no businesses have received an actual recreational permit to open — so there are no recreational dispensaries open that are not an expansion of an ATC (alternative treatment center), as confirmed by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
Any number of businesses moving through local approvals may be on their way to applying for an annual license — or may hold a conditional license and on their way to applying for a conversion to an annual license, an NJCRC spokesperson continued.
So, it remains to be seen who might be the actual first, legal retail shop — not expanded from medical cannabis — to open its doors to customers in the Garden State.
Growing mound of conditional approvals
As of Friday, out of 1,300 applications for conditional licenses received by August, 313 had been approved.
Of those, 34 parties had now applied for a conditional conversion to an annual license, which is needed to actually open, according to the NJCRC.
The other 72% of conditional license applicants had received a “cure” — pointing out what in the application needs to be fixed before conditional approval.
Meanwhile, the commission has also received 232 annual license applications — none of which have been approved, yet, either.
As of Friday, 81% of those annual permit applications were in “completeness review” — involving background checks and financial reviews, among other items.
“So our team is making incredible progress in moving through these applications — and I know some folks have been waiting for a long time,” NJCRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said.
Some frustrated potential cannabis business owners call Brown’s statement “disingenuous.”
Backlog sidetracks equity
One of the public commenters during Friday’s meeting mentioned a website called “Accountability for the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.”
He said that the state’s attention to how many conditional licenses have been awarded and repeated mentions of “equity in ownership” ring hollow — as no local owners have been allowed to operate, yet.
The grassroots website proposes several solutions for the stalled approval of retail shops that are not just expansions of medical dispensaries.
“Change the review priority such that conditional conversions and possibly annual license reviews that have already applied are given higher priority than new conditional applications submitted in the future,” the site suggests.
Another idea is “Announce an upcoming closure to the new conditional license application window.”
Conditional OKs stalling out
Another 192 conditional applications were approved by the commission on Friday — bringing the state’s total conditional licenses granted beyond the 500 mark.
As still no one has received the OK to convert to an annual license — some of those waiting the longest had been faced with an expiring conditional license, some as soon as October.
The commission did vote to extend those conditional licenses by another 45 days - giving them more time to hopefully convert to annual permits.
Cannabis Regulatory Commissioner Charles Barker encouraged conditional license holders to stay positive and committed, saying “This extension reflects the struggles that you’re facing with local municipalities."
An independent shop owner, of Scarlet Reserve Room in Red Bank, who spoke at the Friday meeting said that some municipalities and predatory landlords have made it “so hard and expensive that the micro-businesses don’t even have a chance.”
In the case of Newton's cannabis shop, the town has allowed all six classes of cannabis license, but made the use conditional in certain zones so that interested parties would have to appear before the Land Use Board with a regular land use application.
“This helps the municipality maintain more control over things like security, hours, lighting, parking, landscaping, odor control” and more, Russo said in a response to New Jersey 101.5.
Lack of resources
Another independent owner, representing The Cannabis Place 420 Corp. in Jersey City, said that his business made history as the first Latino and disabled-owned business to clear his city’s municipal approval process for cannabis.
“Yet we are part of the pile of 932 application cures, which equal — according to CRC stats — 72% of all applications received - that’s a crazy statistic to see.”
He said they immediately responded with corrections over six weeks ago and have been disappointed not to see their process move forward, yet, and said the high number of applications needing corrections shows the need for resources in helping navigate the process, to achieve equity in ownership.
With additional reporting by Michael Symons