Given how irreparably damaging and unrelenting that the previous draconian laws regarding cannabis and drugs across the country once were to entire communities of America, the implementation of social equity programs and opportunities in the legal cannabis industry is certainly warranted. Especially on the East Coast where previous policing measures such as “stop and frisk” and the many strict policies of the 1994 Crime Bill were hellishly enforced, programs that allow licenses and other employment opportunities for those people who’ve been significantly disadvantaged due to previous cannabis policies could be a very forward-thinking building of the cannabis industry.

Compared to the other neighboring states, such as New York, which is experiencing a disastrous rollout of their still inoperable cannabis industry, New Jersey has had recreational cannabis since Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law in February 2021. For a state that often gets lampooned as New York’s less cool cousin and a population of only 9 million, The Garden State has generated a total of $328 million in cannabis sales just from April to December of 2022. While a considerable amount of this business is likely coming from states that have been dragging their legislative feet on legalizing such as New York and Pennsylvania, it’s very notable still that such a large fortune of sales were completed in less than a year.

In February of 2021 in a move that was a legislative far cry from his scandal-ridden predecessor Chris Christie, Governor Murphy signed the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization (CREAMM) Act, which effectively legalized cannabis in the state. Whereas Christie wouldn’t extend a bridge to a legal cannabis industry in New Jersey, Murphy ran a very pro-cannabis reform platform, which is partially why he won the 2017 New Jersey Governor election by a margin of nearly 14 percent.

Along with allocating a considerable percentage of the total generated cannabis revenue towards social equity programs via their Social Equity Excise Fee, New Jersey recently announced a grant program for aspiring social equity applicants with a very large dollar amount attached to it. Before even starting the newly created grant program, New Jersey as a state was well aware of what social equity meant and its possible benefits. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission has a very thorough link on both what social equity means but how it could reasonably be implemented in the state’s cannabis industry. The CRC also created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to further promote diversity and social equity within cannabis.

In a lucrative attempt to further dismantle the many costly barriers that oftentimes interfere with the thriving of cannabis businesses, New Jersey will be creating the Cannabis Equity Grant Program, which will be awarding a total of $12 million to 48 different licensed cannabis operators and companies to expand their social equity measures and efforts. With each grant being on average about $250,000, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority is describing this program as “the largest cannabis social equity grant of its kind in the nation.” Without any puns intended, these social equity grants are considered “Joint Venture Grants” and will be a multi-phase process. The funding of the first phase is expected to cover the costs of the transition from conditional cannabis licenses to fully annual cannabis licenses.

The second phase of the program, which also contains a cannabis pun, will be called the “Seed  Equity Grants”, will be financial grants in the size of about $150,000 and will provide additional technical assistance. According to the NJEDA, the funds “will provide licensure process training, assistance in building a cannabis business team, financial management, guidance on securing investors, and development of supply chain management to name a few.” Given the astronomical costs of operating a compliant and licensed cannabis business, these grants could go a substantially long way in offering lucrative opportunities in the cannabis industry that would otherwise be impossible for those from previously impacted communities.

“It is important that we build on our efforts to support the businesses seeking to enter and grow within this emerging market,” Murphy said in a statement. “The Cannabis Equity Grant Program allows us to simultaneously expand the pool of cannabis businesses in our state while also focusing on those communities most impacted by the unethical War on Drugs.”

The New Jersey CRC recently published an incredibly thorough financial breakdown of how these million-dollar grants will be utilized for further social equity inclusion in the Garden State’s cannabis industry.

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