New Jersey Shuns Black-Owned Businesses

Stephen Andrews
01 Feb 2022

Out of 56 licenses issued by the state's regulatory commission, not a single license went to Black-owned businesses in New Jersey. Application outcome met with disapproval from NJ Congressman Donald Payine, Jr., as well as the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

New Jersey's Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) failed to grant a single cannabis license to Black business owners in the Garden State. The CRC opened the application process for adult-use cannabis growers, manufacturers, and testing labs on December 15, 2021. Hundreds of individuals and entities registered accounts within the first few hours as the CRC began accepting recreational cannabis license applications. The milestone was met with a cheer. Enter selection period, the commission apparently didn't care for social equity. 

"I am outraged to hear that Black-owned businesses have been shut out of the state's cannabis marketplace," said Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr., in an official statement issued January 28. 

"Black users are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white users, even though overall use for both groups is almost the same. New Jersey has a chance to correct this inequality and allow people abused by the system to finally benefit from it with a fair distribution of cannabis business licenses. Instead, we are seeing the same inequality with these licenses that we see in marijuana arrests.

"Governor Phil Murphy promised that the state's cannabis industry would right the wrongs of the past as it concerns social justice. Now, New Jersey needs to uphold this promise. I join the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey in their outrage that this inequality continues to plague our state, our society, and our country," the statement said.  

The African American Chamber of Commerce reacted to the licensing outcome a day earlier, when it issued its own press release

"Based on conversations I've had, with stakeholders, out of the 56 licenses awarded to date, none has been awarded to a Black-owned business. People need to know what's going on," the President of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, John Harmon said. 

"Many Black-owned businesses have been trying to get into the cannabis industry since 2012 when cannabis for medicinal purposes became legal in New Jersey. No Black-owned business received a license back then, and none has received a license since the legalization of cannabis for recreational use thus far," Harmon said. 

He added: "It's a costly proposition for Black license applicants to wait indefinitely while the CRC drags its feet in awarding licenses."

New Jersey legalized adult-use marijuana last year, enabling marijuana shops to start operating within state borders. 

The Garden State isn't the only state that has faced backlash over how it handles licenses. Similarly, officials in Illinois have also been grilled by advocates and marijuana business applicants over the lack of representation in the sector.

On the other hand, some states like New York and Connecticut have taken extra steps to ensure social equity. Both states are touted to have robust social equity programs, some liken it to being the golden market standard. Whether what's on paper is fulfilled, it would set an example for other states. 

February marks the annual monthly observance as Black History Month. On this occasion, I do hope to hear more stories on the inclusion of Black-owned businesses in the cannabis sector. Celebrating and cherishing black business owners who launch unique and innovative goods and products on the market. And I hope to hear less, much less, hopefully none, of social injustice and lack of diversity and representation in the cannabis industry or any other sector. 

Stephen Andrews