TRENTON – In a stunning move, New Jersey regulators on Thursday stripped away the right to sell legal weed to recreational customers from one of the world’s largest cannabis companies.
Curaleaf, with nearly 150 dispensaries in the United States, will be required to halt all recreational marijuana sales at its Bellmawr and Edgewater Park dispensaries as of April 21 after the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission voted to deny a renewal of its annual license, with two “no” votes, two abstentions and just one “yes” vote.
The company also operates a dispensary in Bordentown, but the commission’s formal motion only mentioned Curaleaf’s cultivation sites in Bellmwar and Winslow and dispensaries in Bellmawr and Edgewater Park.
In an unsigned statement, Curaleaf called the commission’s denial an “outrageous act of political retaliation” in response to the company’s planned closure of its Bellmawr cultivation site as it consolidates operations at its Winslow facility.
That closure took regulators by surprise.
Under the New Jersey marijuana legalization laws, recreational license holders are required to submit a renewal application at least 90 days before its license expires — in Curaleaf’s case, on April 20. But Curaleaf’s application didn’t make any mention of plans to modify any of its facilities, including closing the Bellmawr site, said Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso, who abstained from voting on the resolution to renew Curaleaf’s license.
“I am concerned about the layoff announcement that was made last month before any information was provided to the commission about any changes Curaleaf was going to make,” said Cannabis Regulatory Commission chair Dianna Houenou, who also abstained. “I think it’s important for the board and the staff at large to have proper insight and timely notice of major changes to a facility’s operations.”
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James Shorris, Curaleaf’s chief compliance officer, said he wasn’t sure of the exact timing when asked whether Curaleaf was already contemplating the move when it filed its renewal application. But the decision was made due to demand in the cannabis market that the newer Winslow facility could meet.
“The nature and reason for those changes was really multi-faceted, including changes in the cannabis market and the demand for that, the fact that our Winslow facility is a state-of-the-art facility producing a high-quality flower at a very efficient rate and all of the considerations that go into managing a process and trying to mitigate costs where we can to keep prices down,” Shorris said.
Thirty-five of the 40 employees working at the Bellmawr cultivation center were offered new jobs, he said. The remaining five employees were not due to job performance or other issues, he said.
The issue seemed to encapsulate an issue the state’s cannabis regulators have complained about since the commission was established: Companies are required to make regular reports detailing how they’re trying to tackle certain issues in the cannabis industry, such as tackling social equity and continuing to prioritize medical marijuana patients.
At numerous public commission meetings throughout the commission’s two-year history, commissioners have offered sternly-worded reminders that, under state law, license holders are required to make regular reports to and respond promptly to requests for information by the commission. On Thursday, Cannabis Regulatory Commission Diversity and Inclusion Director Wesley McWhite III said operators had “constantly been told to put … evidence of good faith social equity efforts” in monthly reports.
“It’s not the responsibility of the CRC to constantly ask for updates, as these should be provided continuously and regularly, even if they fall beyond the monthly reports.”
While Curaleaf was the only dispensary operator that saw its renewal application denied, though CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown was quick to note that there had been “infractions” of state cannabis laws by various operators over the course of the last year.
“When there have been, they’ve been issued violations, penalized and course-corrected,” Brown said.
Despite those issues, Brown recommended the board renew Curaleaf’s license. The decision to override that recommendation was “as arbitrary as it is lacking in merit and legal basis,” Curaleaf said in a statement.
“This type of politicization will only serve to further undermine the state’s nascent cannabis industry. To be clear: Curaleaf is in good standing with the CRC and has fulfilled the requirements necessary for the renewal of our licenses,” the company said.
The fate of Curaleaf’s third dispensary in Bordentown is unclear. Thursday’s actions only concerned the 12 dispensaries that opened on the first day of recreational sales on April 21, 2022. The Bordentown dispensary didn’t begin recreational sales until October.
Even without Bellmawr and Edgewater Park, the number of dispensaries selling legal weed to recreational customers is poised to expand. The CRC on Thursday also approved four more dispensaries — MPX New Jersey in Atlantic City, Holistic Solutions in Waterford, Sweetspot in Voorhees and Valley Wellness in Raritan — to begin recreational sales.
Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering New Jersey local news, marijuana legalization, transportation and a little bit of everything else. He’s won a few awards that make his parents very proud. Contact him at email@example.com or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.
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