A customer celebrates his purchase on the first day of legal adult use sales at Curaleaf’s dispensary in Bellmawr, NJ. Credit: Phoebe Wilson / Curaleaf

New Jersey’s cannabis activists and industry advocates seem pleased as punch with the state’s adult use legalization process, according to interviews with Grown In. With 112 cultivation, manufacturing, and microbusiness licenses already handed out and first day adult use sales reaching $1.9 million on April 21, the people who have been leading the pushing for legalization have few serious quibbles with their state’s process.

“Quite frankly I’m very pleased with it,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of The Coalition for Medical Marijuana and an early advocate for legalization in Trenton. “I know that the state does not act quickly. But we said that in order to legalize marijuana we’d let the state tax and regulate it. And that’s what they’re doing. And the [Cannabis Regulatory Commission] really has taken on this industry with social, economic, and racial justice at the core of it.”

“I think things are going very well,” said Edmund DeVeaux, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a trade association of the state’s cannabis companies. “I always hear the question, ‘What’s taking so long or why did it take so long?’ I think that’s all relative, considering it was over five years ago when then-first term candidate [Gov. Phil] Murphy said he wanted to legalize in the first 100 days of business.” 

As cultivators struggle with local zoning rules and a limited number of opt-in towns, many advocates seem to brush that off, saying that things will just work themselves out.

“What I remind future applicants of this industry, is it’s a free market system,” said DeVeaux. “Whatever we do is with a certain amount of risk. I think many applicants when they heard about licensing and disadvantaged applicants, I think they heard, ‘I’m going to get a license.’ But the challenges of getting a business going remain. It does not eliminate the challenges of starting a new business.”

“There’s no question about it, so many towns reacted in an overly cautious manner by banning these businesses from coming in,” said Wolski. “Once these towns start to see that the cannabis industry has a net positive effect, I’m sure they’ll change their minds.”

Meanwhile, Hugh Giordano, an organizer for Union of Food and Commercial Workers Local 360, says that for the union, things have been going smoothly, since with the legalization of adult use, companies are required to sign labor peace agreements (LPAs) and not campaign against the creation of collective bargaining units.

“By the end of the year I think we’ll have all the LPAs done,” for all the vertically-integrated Alternative Treatment Centers, he said. “That would be the goal.”

“The good thing is we are making partnerships because of the LPA requirements,” Giodano said. “The companies may have anti-union ways about them. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve always run clean union campaigns. It was never about bashing a company. Employers are seeing that if we work together we can get some really good things done. Places like Curaleaf, like Harmony, are seeing that and we’re beginning to see changes there as well.”

Perhaps one sign of darker clouds ahead, none of the activists interviewed had clear solutions for what to do about the state’s pervasive underground market. 

“I guess the only way other than a community-based way is enforcement from the state. I don’t have the perfect answer for it,” said Giordano.

“The CRC had created avenues for legacy to come in out of the cold. We encourage legacy businesses to do just that,” said DeVeaux. “It’s a reality with a lot of products. How many people go to Manhattan and buy knock off Louis Vuitton bags? I think that rather than trying to crush an industry that has existed for 100 years, focus on making the regulated legal market the best it can be.”


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...