Rob Edwards investigating the weed smell at a Pharmacann cultivation facility in New York state. Credit: MIke Fourcher / Grown In

We continue our news and notes series from each state in the region, this time with a focus on New Jersey. There’s a few topics circulating in the cannabis industry, and Grown In gathered thoughts from on- and off-the-record sources to expand on the many questions still needing to be answered.

State Governor Phil Murphy has repeatedly stated that adult use cannabis sales will begin soon, but has revealed no set date. New Jersey has started to take retail applications and as the process advances, new concerns will begin to mount. Here are a few: 

  1. What’s that smell?

Some love the smell of cannabis, others find it a nuisance. I’ve traveled either inside or visited the exterior of multiple dispensaries and cultivation centers over the past week – two dispensaries and three grow operations, to be exact – and all but one passed the smell test. The dispensaries emitted no smell outside of the building, while two of three cultivation centers weren’t noticeable until close proximity to the buildings. The third had a cannabis scent that traveled rather far, but sources say an outdated HVAC system may be to blame.

This will be a concern as adult use dispensaries start opening in the near future and smaller municipalities vote yes on allowing grow operations

“Odor mitigation is brought up many times in town halls,“ said Jacqueline Ferraro, Managing Director of the New Jersey-based advocacy organization, the Cannabis Advisory Group. “The onus will be on the operator to implement a mitigation system. There is probably going to be an odor a few times a year, it’s hard to combat.

“But towns can zone for a cultivation facility to be away from a residential area. There is a way to go about it.”

According to Antonio Valdez of the National Hispanic Cannabis Council, a lot of these concerns can be addressed through community education.

“We need to educate the community on the health and wellness and economic aspects of cannabis,” he said. “We need to empower and support participation in this economy. At the end of the day, we want to demystify the health and wellness of cannabis and break down any taboos or beliefs.”

  1. Social equity trails behind New York

Since New York’s recently announced efforts to promote social equity, the Empire State has become the gold standard in how to ensure efforts in that arena are followed through on.

New Jersey is attempting to answer social equity issues with the Cannabis Regulatory Commission holding meetings on how tax revenue from the plant will be spent. I spoke with Ami Kachalia of the ACLU about this earlier this month, but she added some statistics that weren’t included in the previous story. They don’t involve funding, but they are eye-opening in regards to how minorities are still, at least recently, bearing the brunt of the war on drugs.

“When we talk about marijuana legalization in New Jersey, the conversation since 2015 has always been around racial justice,” said Kachalia. “In 2013, data showed that a Black person was three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than a white person. In 2018, we saw that disparity rise to about 3.45 [times]. Even more recent data has shown that it has risen to almost four [times].

“There is a disconnect. Black and brown communities have beared the brunt of cannabis prohibition. [With legalization] we are essentially flipping a switch on our system. We are going to create an entire industry where business owners can prosper. But we need to prioritize communities who, decade after decade, have seen the harm of the War on Drugs. That’s of utmost importance.”

  1. License application window opens

The NJ-CRC window for cannabis retail business applications opened March 15. Statistics from the state are starting to trickle in, with a number hovering above 170 applicants from this second window. The first opening, late in 2021, was for growers and testing facilities.

A Grown In source looking to open a dispensary noted that it took nearly three hours to fill out the application and attach required documentation.

“You have to remember, a majority of the power when it comes to licensing is at the municipal level,” said Ferraro. “I always encourage operators to dive into community engagement. It’s not a traditional business. With a cannabis operator, community engagement is important. There has to be a long-term partnership.”

  1. Public housing residents have questions

A friend of Grown In pointed out another issue regarding adult use consumption. People living in housing financed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal agency, might have some issues as New Jersey and New York’s adult use programs unfold, since residents in a federal agency-supported facility will have concerns with where they can consume cannabis.

Rules are unclear today, but residents that live in HUD-funded units need to know if their children who are cannabis users can visit and consume, if HUD residents can consume and where they can consume, if at all. Cannabis is still federally illegal, so the short answer to anything HUD-related is likely to be a “no”, but clarity on the subject is needed.