Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Garden State’s Newest Cash Crop – Growing Pains?

New Jerseyans are buying a lot of legal “weed,” or legal marijuana. But all that weed has to be produced somewhere and proposed projects reflect a growing investment in cultivating the state’s newest cash crop in the northwestern corner of the state.

Last month, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) announced that over 100 dispensaries had opened across the state, including four in Warren County: Dank Poet Dispensary LLC in Washington Borough and The Apothecarium Dispensary of Phillipsburg, as well as the Hackettstown Dispensary and High Street Dispensary, also in Hackettstown.

State regulators reported over $800 million worth of medicinal and recreational cannabis was sold throughout the Garden State in 2023. Over $675 million of that total – roughly 84% – came from recreational sales alone. Quarterly data from the CRC also showed increasing demand for recreational cannabis.

Companies are stepping in to supply that growing demand and the rolling hills and farmland in Northwest New Jersey are an attractive option for companies looking for places to grow the Garden State’s newest, legal cash crop. 

One such area is Hardwick Township, where Veda Farms recently proposed a 50-acre medicinal cannabis cultivation center on Millbrook Road. Veda Farms was previously granted a use variance on Kerrs Corner Road in Frelinghuysen Township for another site, but that project is halted while the company awaits more regulatory approvals.

Given that cannabis is a plant grown like many others, what is the difference between cultivating it for medicinal or recreational purposes in New Jersey?

Broadly speaking, the biggest difference between recreational and medicinal cannabis cultivators in New Jersey rests in the regulatory framework. 

Medical cannabis cultivators, or growers, operate under the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act. The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission issues a permit to businesses to possess, cultivate and deliver medicinal cannabis to manufacturers, dispensaries and others who specifically work with medical cannabis. 

The license also allows the holder to plant, cultivate, grow and harvest medicinal cannabis for research purposes. But medicinal cultivators are specifically prohibited from transporting, delivering or distributing cannabis in any form directly to qualifying medical patients or caregivers. 

Basically, medicinal cannabis cultivators in New Jersey can only grow medicinal cannabis that’s sold to manufacturers or dispensaries. 

On the other hand, New Jersey recreational cannabis growers are governed by the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, or the CREAMM Act.

Under the recreational framework, cannabis cultivators are any Class 1-licensed person or entity that grows, cultivates or produces cannabis in New Jersey. Recreational cultivators can sell and transport their cannabis to other cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers or retailers. But recreational cultivators are barred from selling or transporting directly to consumers – just like medicinal cultivators.

Requirements for security of cannabis cultivation sites and facilities are part of the license application process. The CREAMM Act specifies that, just like medicinal licensees, recreational cultivators must submit as part of their application plans for security personnel, security systems and surveillance features. That includes alarms, video recording and visitor management systems.

Environmental concerns also exist, largely surrounding the use of water required to grow cannabis. Extensive irrigation and water consumption must be addressed under what the CREAMM Act deems the licensee’s “water management practices.” Along with security features, any potential medicinal and recreational cultivators must submit a robust environmental impact plan for each proposed facility.

Morgan Gardiner
Morgan Gardiner, Contributing Writer

Morgan Gardiner is a journalist and broadcaster based in Northwest New Jersey. Born and raised in Warren County, Gardiner graduated from McGill University and was previously an on-air newscaster, reporter and producer for WRNJ-AM. When not chasing down a news story, Gardiner fills his time with books, family, friends and traveling.