By SOPHIE NIETO-MUNOZ
New Jersey Monitor

The commission overseeing the state’s cannabis industry on Thursday gave conditional approval to dozens of potential weed growers and labs, but did not set dates for the start of recreational marijuana sales.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission also halted a move to allow the existing eight medical marijuana dispensaries to start selling recreational weed next month, citing complaints it would hurt patients dealing with exorbitant prices and low supply. The first of those medical dispensaries to open in the state was Greenleaf Compassion Center., on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, now operating under new owners as Ascend.

The news is a blow to supporters of adult-use recreational marijuana, who have been waiting since November 2020 — when voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly approved a referendum to legalize cannabis — for recreational sales to begin.

“We may not be 100% there today, but I assure you we will get there. We have a few things to address, and when we address them, I’m happy to return to this body with a further update,” said Jeff Brown, the commission’s executive director.

Brown said allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling recreational weed would require growers to quickly boost the amount they produce. The market is short about 100,000 pounds of marijuana to meet the demands of medical and recreational consumers, he said.

This all comes a month after the commission missed its self-imposed Feb. 22 deadline to create rules for the recreational industry. Brown has blamed the delay on applications with missing information and the number of municipalities that have banned weed sales.

Brown cheered Thursday’s action approving 68 cultivators, manufacturers, and labs for conditional licenses as proof the commission is making progress.

“These are the first businesses to get a foot forward in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “I cannot stress that enough.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing weed during his initial run for office in 2017, said on News 12 Thursday the timeline for the start of recreational sales “will be a matter of weeks — it’s not going to be months.” He said the same thing in February.

“I know that may take longer than folks otherwise would like. The equity and making sure we have an industry that looks like our state — that is not just in words but in action, a step tangibly to undoing the war on drugs — that’s easier said than done,” he said. “We want to get it more right than any other state.”

Legal marijuana supporter Chris Goldstein said while the delay in recreational sales may be frustrating to some consumers, he sees the commission’s delays as a sign it plans to “stand up for consumers, small businesses, and medical marijuana patients.”

“This was definitely a critical moment for the promise of equity in New Jersey’s cannabis market,” said Goldstein, also a regional organizer with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association also commended the commission on “not rushing into the process and taking deliberate steps.” If it had been rushed, the state would be further away from achieving its goals of prioritizing social equity, president Edmund DeVeaux said in a statement.

“Doing things correctly was more important than doing things quickly. New Jersey is on its way, and we look forward to the next round of progress,” he said.

Brown said the commission plans to visit existing medical dispensaries to find out whether they can handle the overwhelming number of customers expected to buy weed once the market opens. He also wants a discussion on exclusive hours for patients seeking medical marijuana, not recreational.

“We are working appropriately, not slowly, but appropriately to advance a marketplace that is developed as right as possible,” said Commissioner Charles Barker. “We are really looking to make equity very real and tangible.”

The commission said it’s received 675 applications to open dispensaries since it began accepting them March 15, with 265 of those in the past week.

Of the applicants, 28% identify as Black or African American, 39% as white, 8% as Asian, and less than 10% as Hispanic or Latino. The remaining 17% did not identify their race.

There has been a fear among some Black leaders that people of color will be left out of the recreational market.

The commission is next expected to meet for a special meeting on April 11.

This story is provided by New Jersey Monitor, and includes minor revisions by Montclair Local. It originally appeared here