TRENTON – New Jersey’s efforts to build a recreational marijuana industry have been generally supported by activists and entities in the would-be regulated market – with one notable exception. Patience is wearing thin with how long it’s taking to award licenses.

The state missed a deadline earlier this month for beginning to take applications under the new legalization law, but that’s not what has people frustrated. The state still hasn’t yet awarded any licenses from a solicitation for applications issued in 2019, more than two years ago now.

For a while, that process was bottled up by a court by lawsuits – but that hasn’t been the case for a while now.

Lonnie Affrime said his application for a medical marijuana license has been in limbo for more than two years without any communication from the state, and he wonders whether he ought to pursue a license under the system about to launch or wait.

“We still have not gotten one email, one phone call, one piece of mail, one comment as to when these applications are going to be forthcoming and awarded,” Affrime said.

Darrin Chandler said the licenses were identified by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission as one of the two top priorities – but still, nothing has happened. Meanwhile, he said a dozen multistate operators keep expanding.

“The state has now had 11 months to accurately score these applications, and this is not even including the time that the pause was in place due to the lawsuit,” said Chandler, who said the review in 2018 by the state health department took three to four months.

“To address this is critical,” said David Feder, an attorney and marijuana business consultant. “People are spending money on rent that they can’t possibly afford ongoing forever. We need to have a timeline. We need to have some sort of understanding of what the program is looking like for the applicants that have been sitting there waiting.”

Dianna Houenou, the CRC’s chairwoman, said at the commission’s most recent meeting that the scoring is ongoing and urged patience.

“It is not lost on us that everyone is eager to get that moving forward – as are we,” Houenou said. “We want to get the industry up and running in a robust fashion.”

The CRC could take action at a meeting next Tuesday. Tuesday night at 7 p.m., it will hold an informational webinar.

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More than 100 applicants are awaiting word on the 2019 round of licenses. Some speak out at every CRC meeting and at the last one expressed frustration that as they wait, Harmony Foundation won approval to open a second cultivation location, in Lafayette.

“It should be no until we deal with 2019 because it’s borderline absurd at this point,” said Travis Ally. “And I know I keep saying the same thing, but it’s just ridiculous.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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