New Jersey is making significant strides in promoting social equity and removing barriers to entry in the cannabis industry. The state recently announced a groundbreaking $12 million grant program aimed at supporting licensed cannabis operators and fostering social equity within the burgeoning industry.
This initiative represents a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to address the historic injustices stemming from the war on drugs. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) revealed that each of the 48 licensees chosen for this program would receive a substantial grant of $250,000. This generous funding makes it the largest cannabis social equity grant of its kind in the nation.
Originally, the NJEDA had planned to select only 24 companies for grant awards. However, additional funding allocated by Governor Phil Murphy allowed for double the number of awardees. This expanded program is designed to assist adult-use cannabis businesses by providing essential capital to help them transition from conditional licenses to annual licenses.
The grant program places a strong emphasis on ensuring that communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs benefit from the financial gains of the legal cannabis industry. Accordingly, 40% of the grant funds are earmarked for qualifying social equity applicants. Additionally, 5% of the funds are allocated for businesses operating in specially designated Impact Zones, which are areas that have experienced a disproportionate impact from cannabis-related offenses.
This is just the first phase of New Jersey’s Cannabis Equity Grant Program, known as the Joint Venture Grants. The next phase, named Seed Equity Grants, is set to launch later this year. It will provide awards of $150,000 each, along with technical assistance. Importantly, 100% of these funds will be designated for social equity applicants, continuing the state’s commitment to fostering social equity within the industry.
The technical assistance aspect of the program is particularly valuable for grant recipients. It will cover various aspects of building a successful cannabis business, including licensure process training, assistance in assembling a cannabis business team, financial management guidance, securing investors, and developing supply chain management strategies.
Dianna Houenou, chair of the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), praised the grant program for its significant impact. She noted that this initiative has set New Jersey’s cannabis market as an example for the rest of the country. The CRC aims to support not only specialized social equity businesses but also general nursing practices, ultimately benefiting patients nationwide.
This announcement comes on the heels of the CRC’s decision to only accept requests for certain cannabis licenses—wholesale, distribution, and delivery—from social equity applicants for one year, starting in September 2023. The goal is to ensure that those who have been most affected by the war on drugs have a fair opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis market.
New Jersey officials are making strategic use of cannabis revenue to benefit communities. In addition to the grant program, the state recently allocated $5.5 million in marijuana revenue to support a hospital-based violence intervention grants program. These funds are derived from the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Fund, which was established to reinvest in communities most impacted by marijuana criminalization.
The state’s approach reflects a growing trend among states with legal cannabis markets to route a portion of cannabis revenue toward community reinvestment programs. This trend includes initiatives in California, Illinois, Arizona, and other states.
New Jersey’s comprehensive program is not only a testament to the state’s commitment to social equity but also a model for how other states can prioritize equity and social justice as they navigate the complexities of the emerging cannabis industry.