Deadline for marijuana dispensary applications passes; patient count up 88%

The deadline for applications for new medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey passed last Friday, while both the patient count and interest in the industry are growing.

Department of Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal tweeted last Tuesday that the program now has more than 30,000 patients — an increase of 14,000 since Gov. Phil Murphy took office.

Interest can not only be seen in New Jersey, with some municipalities creating zoning for potential growth, but also from out of state by companies who want to find diverse partners.

The criteria for applications include a score of 1,000 points for things like financing and cultivation, which are weighted more heavily, and market diversification and diversity, weighted more lightly, according to an Aug. 9 pre-application presentation by the DOH.

The assistant commissioner of medical marijuana, Jefferey Brown, said during the presentation that the state is looking for a diverse applicant pool and for new people and ideas to drive competition.

African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey President John Harmon told ROI-NJ he has fielded at least a dozen calls in the past two weeks from national players searching for diverse firms, since that presentation.

“The interest in this medical cannabis industry has been very robust,” he said. “My translation is that it appears the inclusive language in the (application process) is working. I say it is working because we have received at this office a lot of calls from large out-of-state players, in-state players, as well as individuals looking at minority firms as vendors … as well as for employment opportunities.”

Harmon said his chamber has played a role in making some connections.

“To see folks reaching out and following up with folks about substantive engagements, I think that’s positive engagement in New Jersey,” Harmon said.

But that is not the victory, he said.

Harmon is waiting to see how the state actually doles out licenses and how many diverse applications are approved.

“If it (doesn’t happen) when the smoke clears on those who are ultimately issued licenses, in terms of (DOH) delivering on what they said they were going to deliver on in terms of contract opportunities, and employment opportunities, I think it would be an adverse mark on the Murphy administration, given that 94 percent of the black vote that went to Murphy,” he said. “We’re going to be watching that piece rather closely. But for now, the engagement seems to be trending in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, municipalities are also gearing up for the deadline — signaling their interest to interested parties.

Last Tuesday, Newark approved an ordinance to handle any potential new dispensaries in the city — by implementing a 200-foot buffer from schools, colleges and parks for any new sites — which was referred to the city’s planning board for review.

Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement he supports the medical marijuana program growth in the state, based on resident feedback during a series of town hall meetings.

“We are updating our planning and zoning ordinances to reflect our desire to create areas where medical cannabis activities may take place. These have been identified as ‘Green Zones,’” Baraka said. “Dispensaries will be permitted in close proximity to other medical facilities and in light industrial areas. This ordinance will reduce the burden on Newark residents who use medical marijuana and must now travel miles to secure that treatment.”

The deadline to submit an application for the potential six new dispensaries was close of business Friday.