Status Report: Recreational Marijuana in New Jersey

In November 2020, as Americans chose Joe Biden as their next President, New Jersey voters voted ‘yes’ on a ballot referendum which would legalize the recreational sale and use of cannabis for people over 21.
While it is now permitted for anyone over 21 to consume, recreational marijuana sales in the state have not been approved by the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Committee (CRC). Now, almost twelve months later, New Jerseyans and cannabis-enthusiasts still await the opening of the first slate of recreational dispensaries in the state, as the program slowly rolls out.

One of the biggest strides taken thus far to advance the recreational marijuana industry in New Jersey was the set of mid-summer decisions by municipalities, as to whether or not the sale of cannabis will be allowed within the borders of those cities. Over 70 percent of those municipalities asked have opted out of the sale of marijuana.
Proponents of opening dispensaries sooner rather than later claim that one of the more immediate effects of decriminalization/legalization is the positive impact it would likely have on communities of color.

“The fact is,” said Steven Fulop, Mayor of Jersey City, in a 2018 public statement after the city decriminalized weed, “marijuana arrests and prosecutions in New Jersey, and around the nation, point to severe inequalities that negatively impact people of color disproportionately, and lead to long-term economic challenges for anyone who finds themselves prosecuted for possession.”

The rollout of the recreational marijuana program in New Jersey is also entangled with the existing medical program. As Mike Davis wrote in an Oct. 12 Asbury Park Press article, “Since medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries already have the products, officials believe it will be faster for them to simply ‘flip a switch’ and open up sales to anyone over 21 than for the state to license new recreational-only operations.”

What this essentially means is that, once the new medical licenses are issued by the CRC to growers and dispensaries as of Oct. 15, the transition from medical to fully recreational sales could be easier and more seamless to implement.

As of today, recreational pot is not yet available for purchase from legal dispensaries. Dianna Houenou, the Chair of the CRC of New Jersey, anticipates an early- to mid-2022 beginning of sales.

“It will take time,” Houenou told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Even though we’re starting from a medicinal market, storefronts aren’t going to switch overnight to meet recreational demand. That’s one key thing.”