Op-Ed: Prioritize Local Businesses in Medical Marijuana Licensing

Jeffrey Samuels | July 1, 2019 | Opinion
Small businesses may not have the political clout of regional conglomerates, but they’re hardworking, dependable and uniquely Jersey

Jeffrey Samuels
The New Jersey Department of Health recently announced that the agency is seeking applicants for more than 100 new medical cannabis businesses throughout the Garden State.

That is great news for patients and the business community. Demand for medical cannabis in New Jersey has far outpaced supply, and entrepreneurs are poised to fill the gap. The state’s economy stands to benefit from expanding licenses and local small business and New Jersey residents who have been victimized by over-policing can — and should — benefit too.

As the state moves forward with its medical cannabis program, there is a real opportunity to boost local family-owned businesses. In the last round of cannabis licensing, five of the six awarded licenses went to large, multi-state companies. There is no argument that the state should license financially viable companies, but local businesses, if properly equipped to scale production, should be prioritized.

Small businesses may not have the political influence of regional conglomerates, but what they do have is uniquely Jersey — homegrown talent that is hardworking and dependable. And local small businesses, like mine — our farm is third generation, family-owned Jersey Dutch, with most employees living and working here for decades — have a real and vested interest in the success of the state’s cannabis industry: Our livelihoods depend on it.

There must be equal opportunity

Applications for the new licenses will be available next month, with a mid-August deadline for submissions. The review and approval process must ensure equal opportunity for all New Jerseyans to benefit from this emerging market. In addition to helping communities of color that have suffered the most as a result of the failed war on drugs, additional consideration should be given to other small business/minority-owned applicants, especially those with deep roots in the state.

New Jersey is well on its way to building a first-in-class, patient-centric medical cannabis industry (and there is still time for lawmakers to act and create an adult-use industry too). To realize our goals, the state health department must prioritize those deserving local businesses and encapsulate social equity in all policy changes for New Jersey medicinal marijuana moving forward.