Eight groups of witnesses walked through a four-and-a-half-hour Senate Judiciary Committee meeting analyzing legal marijuana from a variety of angles, from regulatory delays to banking problems to challenges supporting startups that better reflect the state’s residents.
One issue on our minds was price, with New Jersey being among the most expensive legal marijuana in the country — a trend that won’t abate until there are more growers, and one that maintains the power of the illegal underground market even after the launch of regulated sales April 21.
The cost of purchasing an eighth of an ounce of recreational cannabis is between $50 and $65, and during the first three months of 2022, it costs $40 per eighth for medical consumers, said Jeff Brown, executive director of the CRC.
Brown said the price was lower in early 2022 than in late 2021, driven by discounts, and will be monitored closely to make sure recreational sales don’t affect that.
“Now, we would like to see them go down more for sure. Which is why we continue to work to expand competition in the medical cannabis field,” Brown said.
Senator Troy Singleton, Democrat of Burlington, said a subset of people might benefit from discounts at the dispensary — but at the expense of others who pay more.
“Maybe only people I’ve talked to are in this program, but a lot of people in this program tell me that their ability to access their medication has been priced in,” Singleton said.
New clinic locations were announced earlier by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, for companies that applied in 2019 but were held up in legal battles.
Lawmakers said the CRC is moving too slowly on issues such as permitting eating or drinking cannabis-infused substances, permits for clinical research and, above all, criteria for workplace disability recognition experts who can tell if someone has a disability.
Senator Anthony Bucco, R. Morris, said the WIRE rules, as they are known, must be resolved — and fast.
“We need a process whereby employers can follow regulations and be able to run their business without worrying about making a mistake,” Bocco said.
Jeff Brown of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission says work is ongoing and they know it’s a concern for companies that don’t want to run counter to state laws and rules.
“I will note that in our initial regulations, we included one indicating that before the Commission adopts these WIRE standards, the status quo continues and companies can continue to test for drugs,” Brown said.
The meeting was originally announced when the CRC delayed action on allowing dispensaries to expand to recreational sales, citing expected shortages of products that would harm patients enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The CRC quickly scheduled a special meeting and allowed sales to begin at 13 dispensaries owned by seven companies. Not one of the sites opened yet, unable to receive required local approvals, but the other 12 sites are up and running – with steady demand but few known issues.
“There are only minor issues that have emerged,” said Ken Wolsky, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Alliance-New Jersey. “In fact, with some action taken by the CRC, we believe patient access has actually improved since sales for adult use began.”
Wolski said dispensaries are beginning to offer online patient orders, home delivery, home delivery, and dedicated point-of-sale at facilities.
Despite the sales launch, Senate Speaker Nick Scutari, a Union Democrat, said the oversight would still help with issues such as cost.
“I’m absolutely convinced if we didn’t start this process, we might not be open today,” Scutari said. “And New Jersey has enjoyed millions of dollars in legal marijuana sales since opening this business.”
Michael Simmons is the Chief of Statehouse Office at New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]
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