On February 18, 2021 the Appellate Division issued its decision in the consolidated appeals of applicants that were disqualified during the 2019 RFA. Surprising to many, the Court upheld the Department’s disqualification of all but one applicant. The Court also lifted the Stay (or injunction) that has held up the issuance of permits for nearly one and a half years.
The Court held that Agency decisions, such as this, are given much deference – especially when it involves a hardline rule, and not a scoring related issue (like the 2018 RFA Appeal). In other words, in 2019 the Department issued a hard and fast rule that late applications would not be accepted and that applicants assumed sole responsibility for submission. This was not an issue of scoring. The disqualifications were all based on failure to comply with Part A of the Application. This was not scored criteria. You either met the criteria or you did not.
Thus, the Court distinguished the issues in the 2018 and 2019 RFA appeals. The issue in the 2018 RFA Appeal was the wide variance of scores on Part B of the Application. There, some scores were indicative of “scoring fatigue” or simply failed to make sense indicating that scorers might not have been given enough direction or instruction about that particular question’s criteria. The Court stated that it ruled the way that it did regarding the 2018 RFA Appeal because it wanted to instill public confidence in the agency scoring and RFA process.
With the Stay lifted, all eyes are on the Department of Health to make an announcement soon. Some insiders say that the 2019 RFA was completely scored by the time that the Stay was issued. Others think that the Department was close to finished scoring, but wasn’t done yet.
Either way, since adult-use cannabis has taken much longer than expected to get going in NJ, these new medical permits will help serve existing patients and allow the future market to expand more quickly.
We finally see some light at the end of the tunnel!