NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission Dragging Its Feet

NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission
Pot brownies, cookies, muffins or infused olive oil cannot be purchased in NJ Photo: Shutterstock

Consumers, business leaders, and pro-cannabis advocates continue to accuse the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission of dragging its feet on changes they seek to the nascent adult-use cannabis industry.

The commission is set to meet for its monthly meeting Thursday, where it will discuss an array of topics, including making curbside pickup and home delivery permanent, bringing down the cost of medical marijuana cards, and approving another 81 cannabis licenses.

But notably missing from the agenda are two long-awaited topics: workplace regulations for employers who suspect a worker is high on the job, and the approval of edibles like brownies, cookies, and chocolate bars.

“There’s certainly enough out there on the illegal market that is desired by a lot of patients,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. “I would hope that they are moving quickly through the regulatory process, but it doesn’t look like it’ll happen this month.”

Toni-Anne Blake, spokeswoman for the cannabis commission, declined to comment on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting. She said the commission will not speculate on when it will take these issues up.

The commission’s director, Jeff Brown, said at its June 30 meeting that the workplace guidance would be coming “very imminently.”

“We would’ve loved to have seen this all handled in the first round of regulations,” said Ray Cantor of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “There have been many delays in the road.”

The recreational marijuana program launched about three months ago, and the law legalizing the industry passed about 16 months ago. New Jersey voters approved the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2020. Medical marijuana has been legal since 2012.

What should employers do
Employers have been frustrated with the lack of standards on how to tell whether an employee is high or what to do when a worker tests positive for cannabis, according to Cantor.

According to the legislation setting up the adult-use industry, the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission has to create rules for workplace impairment recognition experts — known as WIREs — who can determine if a worker is high on the job. The state’s cannabis law says workplaces can remain drug-free without limiting what an employee does in their free time.

Employers can continue to conduct random and pre-employment drug screenings and ban marijuana use at work, but under the law are prohibited from using drug test results to discipline, fire, or refuse to hire someone.

Cantor said businesses are eagerly awaiting updates, particularly those dealing with operating heavy machinery, manufacturing, and construction. But all businesses have to know how to handle each scenario without putting themselves in muddy legal waters, he said.

“Employers suspect someone is impaired on the job, and they may be removing those people from the job. The problem becomes what adverse actions you can take against that employee, which is more difficult now. Everyone’s trying to work the best they can within the current framework,” he said.

While some lawmakers called for exemptions for industries whose workers they say shouldn’t partake in legal cannabis in their off-duty hours — including off-duty police officers — there are currently no laws in place barring specific professions from consuming weed,

Part of the problem, one advocate suspects, is there is no widely accepted way to prove whether someone has just smoked marijuana or is high in real-time. A drug screening could yield a positive test result if that person ingested cannabis for as long as 30 days prior.

“They may have been tasked with an impossible task. That’s why it’s taking a long time,” said Chris Goldstein, a local advocate with pro-marijuana group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

It’s entirely new territory, he said, as no other state with legal cannabis industries has commissions setting standards for drug recognition in the workplace.

But Cantor said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that regulations will be revealed soon.

“We’re going to need to see what they propose, but at this point. We are optimistic that the guidelines will help employers maintain safe workplaces,” he said.

Currently, the only edibles you can buy in New Jersey dispensaries are sublingual, like lozenges, tablets, and some gummies — no brownies, cookies, muffins, or infused olive oil.

Every other state with adult-use industries allows the sale of edibles.

While the New Jersey law does not allow for the manufacturing and selling of cannabis edibles, the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission can easily change that at a meeting, Wolski said.

“Anything a patient needs should be available to the patient,” said Wolski. “A lot of people are very anxious to have edible cannabis products delivered legally.”

Goldstein pointed to the variety of options on the black market, which sell for a range of prices depending on the strength of the THC. But, he said, legal products need to be well tested by laboratories, and there aren’t many in the Garden State.

“It’s a weird thing because consumers are expecting some generally, pre-made food items that are infused, and that’s not available yet,” he said.

Previously, the commission has heard testimony from both medical and recreational consumers seeking edibles. Some people want them for their potency, and others prefer ingesting cannabis rather than smoking it.

Brown said in a February meeting that while the state is limited due to the lack of commercial kitchens for cannabis products, the “goal is to continue to work to offer more products to patients.”

“I’m really not sure what the hold-up is. Baked goods are very popular and needed and wanted by many people,” Wolski said.