Columbia Care, one of NJ’s first and largest cannabis dispensaries with locations in Vineland and Deptford, just got a lot bigger after a merger with Cresco Labs, an Illinois-based multi-state cannabis behemoth.
NJ regulators approved the merger by a 4:1 vote last week.
It’s a curious development for Columbia Care, a company that sells America’s most expensive medical cannabis here in New Jersey. Columbia Care also has a track record in other states that clashes with the oft-repeated equity goals of NJ’s cannabis regulators.
For starters, Cannabist (Columbia Care’s retail name in NJ) is home to the costliest legal medical cannabis you’ll find anywhere. A cursory glance at their menu reveals a strain called “Red Velvet” marketed for medicinal use which currently retails for $560 per ounce, an eye-popping figure that’s 3x what medical cannabis users in other state might pay. (For weight comparison, a slice of bread weights roughly an ounce. For price comparison, this past MLK weekend, I paid $100 for an ounce of high quality buds from New Jersey’s robust, thriving black market.)
So in addition to charging sick people $560 for an ounce of mediocre legal weed, there’s a track record elsewhere to consider.
Columbia Care, which operates under the name Patriot Care in Massachusetts, was roundly derided back in 2017 for aiming to bar those with felony drug convictions from participating in the cannabis industry.
That’s one way to eliminate the competition, eh?
It was, as Leafly reported at the time, “a mix of bewilderment and outrage: Here’s a cannabis industry CEO actively lobbying to bar anyone convicted of breaking the same unjust federal drug laws that Patriot Care CEO Robert Mayerson and his company have ignored since the day they opened.”
“It’s incredibly hypocritical of them to cite federal laws while breaking the same federal laws every day,” Shanel Lindsay said. Ms. Lindsay helped write Massachusetts’ recreational cannabis law. “This reveals a tension between the goals of activists and the goals of this industry.”
According to Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator, it’s possible the cannabis industry wouldn’t exist if not for the folks who picked up drug convictions while trying to change America’s cannabis laws.
“Excluding people for marijuana convictions isn’t a fair practice,” Ms. Title said. “If you look at the well-documented racial disparities in drug law enforcement, you’ll understand that judging people based on involvement in the legal system for marijuana is essentially judging them based on where they came from. If you have black or brown skin, you are far more likely to have a marijuana conviction than someone else who used or sold marijuana.”
But wait! There’s more tea from right next door!! According to Chris Goldstein, a venerable NJ cannabis advocate, Columbia Care has also attracted negative attention in Delaware.
”Columbia Care has stood out because of their aggressive lobbying techniques,” Mr. Goldstein told InsiderNJ. “That was on full display for the last two years in Dover, Delaware where Columbia Care lobbyists fought cannabis reform bills. This was not behind the scenes, but unabashedly in public testimony before the legislature. Columbia Care lobbyists went so far as to openly threaten that DE medical marijuana patients would immediately suffer increased costs and administrative burdens if the full legalization bill was passed.”
Ominous threats that recreational cannabis harms medical users run counter to what NJ regulators have long maintained, namely that increased competition would lower prices for medical users, a promise still unfulfilled.
“Columbia Care locations in New Jersey under the Cannabist brand continue to offer some of the most expensive average prices on products in both medical and adult-use,” Mr Goldstein added.
“Interestingly enough, the entire medical cannabis flower menu at the Columbia Care location in Wilmington, Delaware is 20%-50% less than the NJ locations. Thus, even within their own regional network the Columbia Care New Jersey locations charge patients a premium.”
Columbia Care’s reward for gouging NJ patients and for their racist hiring policies and cartel-adjacent tomfoolery elsewhere?
Thanks to NJ regulators, Columbia Care is now bigger than ever, the 2nd largest cannabis company in America.
And last week’s merger also means Illinois-based Cresco Labs buys into New Jersey’s legal cannabis marketplace while leapfrogging the entrepreneurs and small businesses already waiting in line.
Swampy ain’t it?
Jay Lassiter is a longtime gay rights and pot activist based in Cherry Hill, NJ.