Here’s the introduction to the interview
n this exclusive hour-long conversation with the state’s Cannabis Regulator Commission Chairwoman Dianna Houenou and Executive Director Jeff Brown for NJ Cannabis Insider, they offered insight into what it took to launch the state’s adult-use market. Houenou and Brown shared some of the challenges their state agency has faced as well as the challenges they see from operators — town approvals, real estate and raising capital. They addressed the need to keep the medicinal program robust for patients, working on ensuring a diverse and equitable market, and some of the surprises they’ve seen since the marketplace opened. This transcript, which focuses on 2022, has been edited for clarity.
Q: Why don’t we start with what you’d consider highlights of 2022 from your vantage point.
Houenou: The CRC is less than two years old. And in that time, we’ve been able to stand up a brand new agency, finish up old applications from the Department of Health, extending the medicinal program and start issuing awards for the adult-use industry. Our second quarter of recreational sales we saw $116.5 million in gross revenue.
Those numbers show there’s promise in the market that we’re establishing. There are 21 medical dispensaries that are also selling personal-use cannabis to adults, but we still have a lot of room to grow. And we have a lot of room for new cannabis entrepreneurs and also the ancillary businesses that support the cannabis industry.
Brown: This year marks a continuation and then an acceleration of our work on these fronts, as our chair mentioned: shoring up medical access; we’ve grown to 30 medicinal dispensaries overall. That market continues to expand. Thanks to the work that the Commission did to wrap up the 2019 RFA. Looking at recreational licensing remains a focal point.
As of December, over 900 conditional licenses have been issued, with 36 annual awards. When you think about the number of medical entities approved for recreational sales, it’s nine, and we’ve now issued annual awards to, I believe, 32 or 33 different new businesses to get into the market — some received both cultivation and manufacturing, so hence the difference in those numbers.
Looking ahead, of those 900 conditionals, over 100 have applied to convert to annual licenses. So, we’re seeing more businesses able to take that leap. A third of those we’ve received are from social equity. That is very promising. And it’s something that gives me confidence in in the system — the fact that we continue to move these applications forward via our process that prioritizes social equity businesses, minority-owned, women-owned disabled veteran-owned businesses. It’s starting to really bear fruit in the form of those annual licenses.
Additionally, we’re continuing to propose and enact policies that will underpin this industry. We’ve worked on and proposed new rules, improving upon them to make them permanent going forward.
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