The Seating of New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission

When Governor Murphy signed the adult use cannabis legislation into law, this action formally created the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a six-member team that oversees all cannabis related activities within the State. This Commission will manage both the medical and adult use industry going forward, taking over many of the past responsibilities handled by the New Jersey Department of Health. This past Tuesday, the Commission held their third public session focused on constructing the new framework geared at regulating medical and personal-use cannabis within our State.

I’d like to spend some time today discussing how the Commission members were selected, how each are qualified for their role and how these qualities will enable them to support the growth of a strong New Jersey cannabis industry. The initial selection process was quite interesting and started with Governor Murphy formally appointing the Executive Director—the administrative director of the CRC who oversees all activities. Then, for the five at-large positions, three of these appointments were made directly by the Governor, one position was selected by the Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and the last appointment was chosen by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. During the first CRC general session, the Commission appointed one of the commissioners recommended by either Senator Sweeney or Assemblyman Coughlin to be elected as Vice Chair of the Commission. The term lengths for each member of the Commission range between three to five years. Moving forward, any Commission appointments or reappointments with term extensions, will require confirmation from the New Jersey Senate.

To qualify as CRC Commissioners, all members must be residents of New Jersey. One of the commissioners needs to be affiliated with or a member of a nationally recognized organization that is focused on social equity through their mission to understand and advance issues addressing poverty, racial injustice, oppression, discrimination and inequality. As outlined in Bill A21, all five members need to possess expertise in the areas of education, training, or experience with legal, policy, criminal justice issues, corporate or industry management, finance, securities, or production or distribution, medicine or pharmacology, or public health, mental health, or substance use disorders. It is very clear that each of the individuals must have unique qualifications and a robust resume to partake in this first Commission.

Below are the selections and a sliver of the background of each member along with some insight into how their roles within the Commission will help shape the future of the New Jersey cannabis market.

Executive Director: Jeff Brown

The role of the executive director is to design, develop and implement strategic plans for the Commission and they are also responsible for the day-to-day operation of the organization. This includes managing Commission committees and staff as well as developing business plans in collaboration with the board. The executive director leads the organization and develops its organizational culture.

Mr. Brown has been the obvious pick for this position, given his current role as the Assistant Commissioner at NJ’s Department of Health Medical Marijuana program. Mr. Brown was appointed to the NJ DOH following Governor Murphy’s election in 2017 and has been responsible in overseeing and managing the rapid growth of New Jersey’s medicinal cannabis program. During this time, patient registration within the state has increased fivefold, from 20,000 registered patients in 2018, to current levels of over 107,000 patients. He has also spearheaded efforts to expand access by allowing for new qualified medical conditions to be considered under the New Jersey medical cannabis program. The pandemic has presented new challenges this past year and he has been instrumental in advancing improvements in patient access. In addition, Mr. Brown has overseen the approval of new Alternative Treatment Centers to double the total state providers. These attributes make him uniquely qualified to be the CRC’s first Executive Director. All members of the Commission report directly to Mr. Brown based on the CRC’s organizational chart.

Chair: Dianna Houenou

Dianna Houenou was Governor Murphy first appointment to the Commission. The governor chose Ms. Houenou to lead and chair the Commission and its major activities. Ms. Houenou has been a member of Governor Murphy’s legal team for the past two years in her role as associate counsel and senior policy advisor. Prior to her civil work, she was a policy advisor for nearly three years at the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union. Based out of Newark, her team focused on fighting for individual rights, education, and organizing community events and activities. Ms. Houenou has been a passionate and committed force for marijuana reform for the state. As the chair of the Commission, her experience and skills are expected to be a positive driving force in the promotion of social equity initiatives across the spectrum of licensed candidates.

Vice Chair: Sam Delgado

Sam Delgado, was nominated by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. Mr. Delgado has had dual careers, one as an active member of the US Marine Corp and the other within the private sector, as an executive for twenty years at Verizon. Mr. Delgado brings to the Commission his expertise balancing business goals with community outreach combined with navigating regulatory policy. During his introduction at the first public meeting, he emotionally conveyed how his personal experience of being arrested and incarcerated as a young man in the 1970’s, for simple cannabis possession, shaped his character. He emphasized the importance of addressing the impact that the war on drugs has had on families. Mr. Delgado brings a wealth of experience melding business with the community and he is looking to help create a marketplace that focuses on best practices and honesty.

At-Large Commissioners

Krista Nash, was the first at-large member nominated to the Commission by Senate President Sweeney in February 2020. Mrs. Nash was the Program Director of Promise, part of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, a nonprofit serviced based organization, based out of Camden, that brings a host of programs to the community. Her work helped guide the foundation to focus on homelessness, veteran’s assistance, availability of affordable housing, addiction support, and reentry back into the community. Ms. Nash’s specialty has been to work with New Jersey’s Parole Board, in efforts to help individuals reacclimate to society following their release. She also was the Director of Mental Health Counseling, advancing programs to help individuals with severe mental health issues. In her career as a social worker, Mrs. Nash brings to the Commission first-hand knowledge of the damage inflicted by the war on drugs.

Maria Del Cid-Kosso was selected by Governor Murphy. Mrs. Del Cid-Kosso has been with New Jersey’s Department of Health coordinating legislative issues with the governor’s office. She has been focused as well on policy and all regulatory issues involving the DOH in her role as Director of the Office of Policy and Legislative Services. During the first public session Ms. Del Cid-Kosso expressed how important it is to address injustice and how she is looking to the future NJ cannabis marketplace as the perfect place to make huge strides in this area. She also mentioned home delivery as an area to improve the rules for the medical patients in New Jersey and she conveyed that her focus will be on patient well-being, safety and access.

Charles Barker was selected by Governor Murphy towards the end of March. Mr. Barker has worked closely with Senator Cory Booker focusing on policy as part of his advisory team. He is also Associate General Counsel for a real estate management company and a representative of the National Action Network, a nonprofit focusing on civil rights. During the first CRC general sessions, Mr. Barker referenced a need for the Commission to consider its impact in providing an economic opportunity to New Jersey communities that have been disparaged by the war on drugs, particularly communities of color. In his role within the Commission, Mr. Barker is passionate about incorporating important social equity initiatives which are highly needed as the industries path gets more clearly defined.

It is apparent that each of these individuals brings to the Commission a wealth of talent and experience. The newly formed team is looking to build on these qualities. They have openly communicated that they are looking to learn and grow in their roles. As they look to regulate the market effectively, the team has conveyed that they want to ensure that their future decisions will be based on sound judgement. The Commission is only a few weeks old and they have already held three public sessions, accepting testimony on the important subjects of independent third-party testing, which will provide the foundation for compliance in the region and how best to incorporate and advance critical social equity initiatives. They have also conveyed that they want to gain valuable insight on best practices. To aid in this effort, they are engaging with regulators in other states. This should give them the opportunity to avoid missteps experienced in other regions as well as learn about the implementation of strategies that have worked well. It will be interesting to see how this team will continue to collaborate, to engage the New Jersey populace for public opinion, along with other industry professionals, as they proceed down the path of building out a strong regulated cannabis marketplace within the state.

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