Four questions with Lee Vartan of CSG on opening day of recreational-use sale in N.J.

Lee Vartan

Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi

Co-chair, Cannabis Law Group


The sale of cannabis for recreational use finally is here. Did the long delay help the state or hurt the state when it comes to establishing itself in the business of cannabis?

“Ultimately, I think it will benefit the state and help ensure a long-term competitive marketplace. All of the social equity and conditional applicants only recently applied for licenses and will not be in a position to open their doors for (at best) some number of months. The state’s delay in flipping the recreational switch will ensure that the large (companies) do not have too great a head start over the applicants currently in the pipeline.”

For those just getting interested in getting into the cannabis business space, whether it be growing, distributing or selling, is it too late? What would you advise someone who is looking into a venture today?

“It’s absolutely not too late. There is presently an open license period for would-be cultivators, processors and retailers. Now is the time to consult with an attorney and figure out how the application process works and the best form of application. The CRC really has done a laudable job of streamlining and simplifying the application process relative to the 2018 and 2019 processes.”

Do you think the regulations will create an equitable market, one where underserved communities have a fair chance to succeed, as Gov. Phil Murphy has wanted from the beginning? If not, what rules/regulations would you add to meet this ideal?

“Overall, yes, since the application process is much more streamlined than past processes. There are, of course, areas for still greater improvement — for example, waiving the requirement for a resolution of local support for microbusinesses — but those changes are on the margins. The reality is that, under the current process, a would-be cannabis entrepreneur can apply for a license with little more than a few hundred dollars, a business plan and a compliance plan.”

Give us one more thought on the cannabis industry in New Jersey?

“This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the cannabis industry in New Jersey. We are going to go from a handful of recreational businesses in April 2022 to a real industry in 2023, where there is competition, diversity and all of the associated benefits for consumers.”