On December 21st, 2022, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced the launch of their brand-new Cannabis Equity Grant Program. This initiative was developed in order to assist with early-stage expenses and technical training in the ever-growing cannabis industry. $10 million in total funding will be available during the initial program pilot. Of that $10 million, 60% of those funds will go towards qualifying social equity applicants, including those who had previous cannabis convictions or reside in economically disadvantaged areas. Economically disadvantaged areas are determined by by the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who has identified zip codes that meet certain socioeconomic criteria. Qualifying businesses can receive up to $250,000 in funds to help with costs such as regulatory fees, rental expenses, utilities, and wages. Grantees may also access technical assistance and business education courses provided by the NJEDA.
The remaining 40% of funds is available to all entities who have secured municipal approval and site control of the business’s real estate. Those with conditional licenses and existing approvals may also access up to $250,000 in funding. Funding and resources have been set aside specifically for Impact Zones, which are areas targeted based on previous levels of marijuana arrests, population, unemployment rates, and additional socioeconomic factors. 5% of the overall funding will be allocated to these Impact Zones accordingly. In order to further encourage applications from participants in economically disadvantaged areas, the application fee of $1,000 in these regions may be waived. The applications will remain open for 180 days following the official launch of the Grant Program.
This legislation comes about on the heels of the legalization of cannabis for recreational adult use in 2020. By 2021, guidelines were established for regulated growth and sales in this emerging industry. Governor Murphy signed legislation in 2022 granting the NJEDA the ability to offer assistance to qualifying small businesses. Per Governor Phil Murphy, “My Administration is doubling its efforts to cultivate small businesses in burgeoning industries with massive untapped potential. The establishment of the Cannabis Equity Grant Program will help aspiring small business owners meet start-up expenses in a pivotal sector within our state’s ever-growing economy. Most importantly, the program will erode considerable barriers to access for communities of color, which this program will help to equip with the resources they need to not just enter, but thrive, in this exciting new industry.”
Upholding and promoting equity in the expansion of the cannabis industry is but one way we’ve begun to rectify historic injustices that have largely impacted communities of color. Per the New Jersey ACLU, Black individuals were arrested for cannabis charges at 3.45 times the amount of their white counterparts, despite similar rates of usage. Regretfully, 15 counties in New Jersey had a greater racial disparity than that of the national average. Thankfully, initiatives like the Cannabis Equity Grant Program help to correct these historic wrongs.
Per John Harmon Sr., Founder, President, and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce, “We are pleased with the efforts of the NJEDA to authorize critical resources that will assist our constituency in advancing their plans to participate in the recreational cannabis industry in our state. I applaud the leadership of the NJEDA for their willingness to listen, and engage in a frank dialogue with business enterprises, that have capital at risk, about their plans to bring value to the marketplace; it’s through these best practices that we can realize a transformation that will lead to a more equitable New Jersey.”
The program would not be possible without the support of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the State’s principal agency for promoting economic growth. Inclusivity and sustainability are central to the policies and strategies implemented by the NJEDA. They seek to build strong and dynamic communities, create meaningful job opportunities for New Jersey residents, and forge a pathway to a stronger, more equitable economy. Through its partnerships with a variety of stakeholders, the NJEDA helps to enhance the quality of life and economic vitality of New Jersey. If you’re a business owner looking to learn more about this program, please contact the NJEDA at (844) 965-1125 or visit them online at https://www.njeda.com/ for additional details regarding how you can get started.