Legal New Jersey recreational pot sales could begin in weeks, agency says

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Cannabis regulators in New Jersey said Monday that 13 medical marijuana stores, including seven in South Jersey, will be allowed to start selling recreational weed, possibly within weeks, giving for the first time millions of adults in the Philadelphia area local access to legal cannabis.

The closest locations to Philadelphia are in Bellmawr, Edgewater Park, and Deptford. The action comes 17 months after New Jersey voters approved legalization in a referendum. The delay had put the five-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) under increasing political pressure to launch the state’s recreational cannabis market.

Jeff Brown, the commission’s executive director, told a special meeting on Monday that medical marijuana companies, known as alternative treatment centers (or ATCs), had presented compelling evidence that they could begin recreational sales without disrupting access for the state’s 130,000 medical marijuana patients.

“Given that we have recommended safeguards to protect patient supply, we see no market-wide concerns with the advancement of these ATCs,” Brown said.

Brown said cannabis companies will still need to pass a final inspection, pay an expansion fee of up to $1 million and meet other requirements before sales can begin. He did not specify how long it might take.

Separately, the CRC approved 34 additional conditional licenses for recreational cannabis cultivators and manufacturers, bringing the total of those approvals to 102. Newly licensed entities now have approximately four months to find a site, obtain municipal approval and apply for a full license. annual license. The conditional license was designed to give entrepreneurs and small businesses a pathway into the industry.

Bill Caruso, a cannabis attorney and lobbyist at Archer Law who has been involved in New Jersey’s cannabis legalization efforts for many years, called the CRC’s decision historic. “Looks like the first sales will start before the end of the month! he said in a text that also praised the CRC for approving more conditional licenses for social equity applicants.

A consumer advocate has warned that the start of recreational sales could be difficult, especially for patients.

“These 13 existing medical marijuana dispensaries are likely to see a massive rush of traffic from novelty shoppers, not only locally but also from Pennsylvania and New York,” said Chris Goldstein, regional organizer in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. for the National Marijuana Law Reform Organization.

Brown, the director of the CRC, predicted that 788,000 out-of-state tourists would join 836,000 Jersey residents as shoppers in state cannabis stores each year. To protect patient access, the expanded alternative treatment centers have agreed to set aside 14 hours per week for patient-only purchases, as well as separate patient parking and check-in lines, among other safeguards.

If companies fail to maintain patient access and supplies, they could face daily fines of $10,000 and possible license suspensions, Brown said.

In South Jersey, the three companies that will begin recreational sales are Acreage Holdings, Curaleaf Holdings Inc. and Columbia Care Inc. The stores that have been approved are in Bellmawr, Bordentown, Deptford, Edgewater Park, Egg Harbor Township, Vineland and Williamstown. .

READ MORE: What’s and isn’t allowed under New Jersey’s marijuana laws

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who took office in January 2018, said during his campaign that he supports legalizing cannabis for anyone over 21. Chris Christie, did not support it.

After legislative efforts to legalize recreational cannabis failed during Murphy’s first 18 months in office, New Jersey residents got to decide for themselves through a November 2020 vote, which passed 67 % to 33%.

Three months later, Murphy signed a set of three bills into law that called for the creation of a regulated recreational marijuana market. The measures decriminalized possession of up to six ounces of marijuana and mandated the removal of low-level marijuana arrests from the records of as many as a quarter of a million people.

The use of marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Over the past year, the new Cannabis Regulatory Commission, chaired by Dianna Houenou, formerly an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, has wrestled with the challenges of building a new agency for a pandemic. The commission has worked to expand an inadequate market for medical cannabis, hampered by lawsuits over licensing decisions. Officials also laid the groundwork for the recreational market, which is expected to generate $2 billion in sales by 2025.

Establishing the recreational market isn’t as simple as giving the state’s medical cannabis industry the green light to start selling to every adult with money in his pocket.

The commission had to draft rules to ensure that the start of recreational cannabis sales did not disrupt patient access. The CRC also needed to ensure that small entrepreneurs, people arrested for marijuana and people from economically disadvantaged communities had a chance to get into the business – instead of allowing large publicly traded companies operating in multiple states to dominate it. .

To complicate the rollout, municipalities had to decide whether they would allow any type of recreational cannabis business to operate within their borders and choose where those businesses could operate. Last September, 40 of 100 municipalities in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties had allowed at least one type of cannabis business to open.

The local control did not stop there. Municipal governing bodies must then approve a resolution approving recreational cannabis operations at each location.

READ MORE: What to Know About Buying Recreational Marijuana in New Jersey

The CRC released its first rules in August, careful to emphasize social fairness, especially for black and brown New Jersey residents who have been disproportionately harmed by decades of prohibition.

In late October, major medical marijuana companies in New Jersey were demanding CRC permission to sell recreational weed to adults. They said they have increased inventory and hired hundreds of employees in anticipation of sales beginning no later than the first anniversary of Murphy signing the cannabis laws on Feb. 21, 2021.

Brown, CRC’s executive director, pushed back in January, saying regulators weren’t convinced statewide supplies were adequate for the medical and recreational markets. Additionally, he said, not all medical marijuana companies requiring recreational sales had obtained all necessary local approvals.

Late last month, the CRC said supplies remained insufficient. Members were not convinced that the most vulnerable patients would have uninterrupted access or that the companies’ social equity plans for hiring and other measures were concrete enough.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, CRC President Houenou said, “I’m glad to see that some of the ATCs have decided to take this seriously and move forward with their expansion plans.”

Houenou, who abstained from voting on the expansion of ATCs, then briefed cannabis companies on her expectations for the start of recreational sales.

“I expect ATC to work with CRC and the cities in which the companies are located to ensure that local authorities are properly informed and ready for potential lines and traffic, that facilities are ready for final on-site inspection and that CRC knows when the expanded ATC plans to begin sales for adult use,” she said.

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