Legal Marijuana Sales Expected to Start Within Weeks in New Jersey

A year and a half after New Jerseyans voted to legalize cannabis, the state on Monday gave seven medical marijuana companies final approval to begin selling their products to all adults, opening the door to first legal marijuana sales in the New York City region. within a month.

In a meeting held via videoconference, the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission ushered in a seismic cultural shift, making New Jersey the second state on the East Coast to fully authorize cannabis sales to all adults.

For years, the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries had been allowed to sell cannabis only to buyers with a doctor’s permission to use the drug as medicine.

Adult recreational use sales can begin as soon as each of the seven companies pays more than $1 million in fees associated with the expanded licenses and meets other bureaucratic requirements to obtain a final license.

“The path to get there doesn’t have to be a specific time period,” said Jeff Brown, executive director of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. “It doesn’t have to be 30 days. It can be less. It can be more.”

The commission authorized 13 individual dispensaries, which will be scattered throughout New Jersey, including several within a half-hour drive of New York City.

Officials said Monday that each of the cannabis companies had shown they had enough supply for medical and recreational customers.

The companies also had to demonstrate that they had a strategy in place to ensure that patients were not marginalized by the expected rush of new clients during the first days of legal sales in the densely populated region.

Adult stores that opened in November 2018 in Massachusetts, the first East Coast state to allow the sale of recreational cannabis, were overrun by customers.

“I expect to see some heavy lines and heavy traffic around some of these facilities,” said Dianna Houenou, chair of the commission, after votes in favor of authorizing the expanded licenses.

Ms. Houenou, who abstained from voting on expanding adult use, said she hoped dispensaries would work with the commission “and the cities in which the businesses are located to ensure local officials are properly informed and ready.” for possible queues and traffic. ”

Monday’s decision applies only to seven existing medical marijuana companies, which are primarily run by large multi-state and international cannabis corporations.

Smaller entrepreneurs also hoping to open recreational cannabis stores in New Jersey have filed 327 applications for retail licenses since March 15, but decisions on those applicants aren’t expected for at least another month.

Before the vote, officials from the seven cannabis companies outlined plans to offer patient-only hours at dispensaries, as well as reserved parking spots for medical marijuana customers.

“We will have an adequate supply,” said Dina Rollman, who runs government affairs at Green Thumb Industries, a medical marijuana company with three dispensaries in New Jersey.

His Paramus store will be reserved for medical-use sales only, he said. Green Thumb’s dispensaries in Paterson and Bloomfield, both 15 miles from Manhattan, will be open for medical and recreational sales, she said.

Last month, the commission postponed a decision to allow medical marijuana stores to start selling products to all adults, citing supply limitations and other concerns. The delay drew sharp criticism from lawmakers eager to open up the adult recreational market.

Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat who is president of the state Senate and has pushed for years to legalize marijuana, threatened to hold public hearings if recreational sales didn’t start soon.

“We need to get the legal marijuana market up and running in New Jersey,” Scutari said in a statement. “This has become a failure to meet the public mandate and meet the expectations of new businesses and consumers.”

In November 2020, New Jersey voters approved a referendum in favor of legalizing marijuana; Several months later, legislators approved a bill that legalized certain quantities of the drug and established general parameters for the new industry.

New York and Connecticut followed suit, legalizing marijuana in part as a way to eliminate the wide racial gap in enforcement. (In New Jersey, for example, black residents were more than three times as likely as white residents to be charged with marijuana possession, despite similar rates of use.)

The newly created cannabis commission has spent the last year fine-tuning the regulations that will govern the new industry.

Over the past month, the commission has also granted conditional approval to 102 companies that applied to grow or manufacture cannabis. These applicants must now find a location to operate and obtain host city approval before their conditional permits can be considered valid.

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