New Jersey: Applicants Vie For Six New Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licenses

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Competition from organizations vying for one of the new medical marijuana licenses is intense. One hundred forty-six applicants are hoping to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to a town near you.

New Jersey’s Department of Health has a little under two months to review their requests to run just six new dispensaries in the state.

“Those are broken down 50 in the northern region, 45 in the central and 51 in the southern region,” said Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner of the medical marijuana program for the New Jersey Department of Health.

Brown says the process was rigorous and qualifications demanding.

“They range from past business experience, so whether or not an applicant has experience working in a regulated cannabis industry, or other highly regulated industries such as health care or banking, those sort of things. Also looking at their ability to comply with our regulations, so things like record keeping, employee procedures,” he said.

The department also looks at how they’ll cultivate, manufacture and dispense marijuana. Corporate social responsibility is another big qualification, indicating the commitment and support to the local community they’ll be rooted in.

The state can’t keep up with demand since adding five new categories of qualifying medical conditions, including migraines and anxiety. There are now roughly 31,000 patients in the program compared to around 17,000 at the beginning of the year, according to the state Department of Health. Every day, officials say they register another 100 patients in the program.

“All eyes are on New Jersey right now in this industry. Nationwide, and even to our brothers and sisters in Canada, we’re all looking to see what New Jersey is going to do. To be completely honest with you, there has not been a state yet that has passed legalization or adult use that has gotten it right,” said Wanda James, owner of Simply Pure marijuana dispensary in Denver.

James is a Colorado-based entrepreneur. In 2009, she became the first African-American legally licensed to sell marijuana. She says just 1 percent of dispensaries across the nation are minority-owned, so she applied for a license in Paterson and Trenton, hoping to bring her experience and mission for social justice there.

“This is typical in the industry,” James said. “The reason why it’s typical is lack of funding. This is a $30 million project to be able to get off the ground.”

It’s the same reason longtime Trenton business owner and community advocate Tracey Syphax wants to open a dispensary. He was convicted of drug-related charges 30 years ago. His record was recently expunged, but he shudders at the thought of those making money off a drug while others serve time.

“Trenton metro can have an opportunity to change that. They can have an opportunity to give those who’ve been disenfranchised and those who completely are being left out of the mainstream economy, a chance to redeem themselves,” Syphax said.

“Whether or not a business involves minority groups, women, veterans in their leadership, and whether or not they’re certified as doing so, in total it represents about 5 percent in the total overall score for an applicant. We’ve also weaved diversity throughout other sections,” Brown said.

There are already six dispensaries scattered throughout the state. Some have argued the lengthy distances between make access tough for the elderly or disabled. This plan doubles that by awarding two new licenses each for the northern, central and southern regions.

The Department of Health won’t say how many applicants came from within and outside of New Jersey. The winners of the six new licenses will be announced Nov. 1.