NJ Senate to hold hearings on delay of legal marijuana sales
TRENTON – A special legislative committee will be created to review delays with legal recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey, Senate President Nick Scutari announced Tuesday.
Scutari, D-Union, said he wants an explanation behind the hold-up in allowing medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana. That had been on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission agenda last week, but a vote was shelved because the agency said the facilities aren’t yet ready.
Scutari said he also wants to know why it is taking so long to open adult-use retail dispensaries. The CRC just began accepting applications for such businesses two weeks ago.
“These delays are totally unacceptable,” Scutari said. “We need to get the legal marijuana market up and running in New Jersey. This has become a failure to follow through on the public mandate and to meet the expectations for new businesses and consumers.”
The No. 1 question
It has now been 73 weeks, or nearly 17 months, since voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana.
“It’s been over a year, coming up on a year and a half, since the voters of New Jersey legalized marijuana, and we’re yet to have any legal sales. So, I’d like to know what’s going on. I think the public deserves to know," Scutari said.
“I don’t get asked anything more than that question: When are we going to allow adult sales in New Jersey?" he said. "And the answer that I give them every time is: ‘I don’t know.’”
Scutari took the lead in creating both the medical and recreational cannabis laws, before he was Senate president. He said it has taken more than a decade to get the bill passed and now to see sales begin and doesn't know why it's always this difficult.
“It’s a herculean effort to get this done and it seems I always have to push the envelope as hard as possible to get any movement," Scutari said. "And so, that’s what I’m hoping to do – just to get this program off the ground. That’s what I’d like to see happen.”
CRC meets in two weeks
In voting to delay the expansion of the existing medical dispensaries, the CRC said the cannabis marketplace remains about 100,000 pounds short of the supply that would be needed to serve both medical patients and recreational customers. It also said it wants dispensaries to establish hours, phone lines and home delivery exclusive to medical patients to ensure they’re served even if there are crowds.
The CRC scheduled a special meeting for April 11 where it could reconsider the dispensary expansions. Its next regularly scheduled meeting is not until May 24.
Scutari said he wants to form a bipartisan special committee and will ask the Assembly if it wants to participate to make it a joint panel. He said the membership and schedule will be worked out soon.
Senate Democrats said the oversight hearings will include an accounting from CRC officials and input from those operating cannabis businesses or waiting to get licensed, as well as others involved in the legal marijuana market.
The CRC last week did approve the first 68 conditional licenses for adult-use marijuana businesses that will grow cannabis and manufacture it into retail products.
Scutari said he also wants to know what can be done to meet the demands and reduce the costs of medical marijuana.
'Insult to the souls lost'
Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, said the Senate should also create a select committee to investigate deaths in nursing homes during the pandemic, as he has been advocating since May 2020. He said both issues can be scrutinized.
"Prioritizing an investigation into the shortcomings of legal marijuana in New Jersey is an insult to the souls lost in nursing homes and their loved ones. It makes no sense," Pennacchio said.
Scutari said oversight is a normal function of any legislative body and that "you'll probably see more of that" but didn't commit to a nursing home select committee when asked about Pennacchio's comments.
“Everyone has their own opinions on things," Scutari said. "This (marijuana legalization) is a matter that I’ve worked on for most of my adult career in the Legislature, and it’s something that is very important to folks that’s more of a pressing matter than anything else because people are on pins and needles waiting for this to go forward.”