A marijuana legalization bill expected to be introduced in the state Legislature on Feb. 1 will only allow for a limited number of licenses to be issued by the state, according to those with knowledge of the legislation.
The bill, which was discussed Thursday night by a panel of cannabis experts at the New Jersey Cannabis Symposium at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, would allow for 80 retail and 15 cultivation licenses; that number would expand to 25 cultivation licenses after the first year of the bill's implementation.
According to panel members who have seen an early draft of the bill, it would simplify the five separate types of licenses for cannabis businesses present in current bills (cultivation, processing, transportation, retail and wholesale) to three licenses: cultivation, processing and retail.
“While I think that number [of licenses] is extremely too low, the way I see it is a way to start the conversation,” said Brian Staffa, founder and chief operator of BSC Group, a company that provides scaled management services for cultivation, processing and retail cannabis facilities.
Staffa said the draft was "dated months ago," and would see all of New Jersey's retail licenses distributed among the 40 legislative districts, two dispensaries per district. But this number would likely not sustain the level of demand in a state with 9 million residents. By comparison, Denver has 800 dispensaries in a city with just under 700,000 residents.
Staffa said the new bill is expected to be a combination of two similar bills, one sponsored by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer.
The panelists said New Jersey's cannabis business was not deterred by federal action by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Obama-era memos that signaled marijuana prosecution was not a priority for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“What the Lord giveth in the form of a beautiful plant, the federal government isn't going to take away,” said Joshua Bauchner, partner at law firm Ansell Grimm & Aaron. “No one is going to get raided, they're not coming by.”
Panel members said they expect a cannabis legalization bill to be passed by June 30.