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The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) is engaging in a series of listening sessions with cannabis-industry stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and obstacles new cannabis businesses may face, including access to capital and high startup costs.

The NJEDA plans to use the feedback it receives from these sessions to explore potential assistance programs that can help to create equitable access to the cannabis industry. Research indicates that minority communities have been disproportionally affected by cannabis criminalization and potential assistance programs can help to create a more equitable and diverse cannabis industry, NJEDA said.

While these listening sessions are by invitation only, members of the public who wish to provide feedback on this topic can email cannabis@njeda.com.

“The NJEDA is conducting listening sessions throughout the State to better understand cannabis applicants’ experiences with navigating business start-up and access to capital issues in this emerging industry,” said NJEDA CEO Tim Sullivan.

The NJEDA, together with the New Jersey Business Action Center (BAC) and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC), are hosting listening sessions in Newark, Atlantic City, and Camden, he said.  Each session focuses on understanding stakeholders’ experiences and the amount of funds necessary to navigate any startup issues businesses may face in obtaining necessary permits and approvals.

“BAC provides support to businesses of all sizes every day, connecting them to resources in and out of government that can help them start and grow, said Penni Wild, Deputy Executive Director of the New Jersey Business Action Center. “It’s critically important that New Jersey cannabis licensee applicants, especially those in the social equity, legacy, Impact Zone, and microbusiness categories, access the technical assistance they need to submit successful applications to the NJCRC.”

BAC works with applicants to find an available business name, show them how to secure their federal tax ID, state business registration and how to register as a woman/minority/veteran-owned or small business, Wild said.

NJEDA Chief Community Development Officer Tai Cooper said that with the legalization of cannabis representing an opportunity to launch a whole new industry in New Jersey, it’s important that equity, inclusion and social justice be part of the process.

“By engaging with stakeholders at this early stage, we can create a program that fits the needs of small businesses as they grow and create jobs in this emerging industry,” Cooper said.

NJCRC Chair Dianna Houenou pointed out that access to capital is one of the largest roadblocks to improving diversity in the cannabis industry.

“As we try to lower that roadblock for as many entrepreneurs as possible, it is important that we let their voices guide how assistance programs are developed,” Houenou said.