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As NJ legal cannabis industry gets off the ground, some say getting a foot in the door is too difficult

man kicking through the door

Predatory practices and local politics may be snuffing out potential players in New Jersey’s recreational marijuana industry.

When adult-use recreational marijuana was legalized in New Jersey, state officials promised to offer entrepreneurs an equitable playing field in the emerging marketplace. But inequities in the field are proving to be a challenge for some to get their foot in the door.
“People who were sentenced or had paid fines related to cannabis-related offenses were hoping for an opportunity or an entry point into this industry, because a lot of states have gone on to legalize, but haven’t been able to successfully develop social equity programs,” says Chirali Patel, owner of Blaze Responsibly.
Patel, who is an attorney, says that there are some concerns that entrepreneurs have faced since New Jersey legalized cannabis, specifically when it comes to licensing, social equity applications and funding.
 
“A lot of applicants don’t know where to get money in this industry, because you can’t go and get a traditional bank loan. It’s a lot of private equity, venture capital money, and getting to the table at these funds is not easy,” says Patel.
Patel also says the industry is lacking education about going into the legal weed business.
“We legalize an industry and then there's rules and regulations associated with that industry, but there's no education for the individual to understand what are these opportunities? What are these license categories? How do I even apply for one? Because it's brand new in this state for adult use. We've only had medical,” says Patel.
Patel says she wants to bridge that education gap by offering a five-hour online course called “Budding in the Garden State,” which teaches new and seasoned entrepreneurs about getting into the industry. The course will have a concentration on dealing with local government, especially concerning micro licenses, because that's the lowest entry point for potential operators.
“Municipalities are saying only two microbusinesses per license category. That’s making it competitive at the local level, so while the state is saying its unlimited, it’s not necessarily the case at that municipal level,” Patel says.
Right now, prospective operators are now awaiting an application notice to go out, but the state hasn't set a date for that yet.
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