New Jersey Lights Up

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  • On Thursday, a day after ‘420 day,’ New Jersey became the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana sales
  • Garden State residents wasted no time and dozens were seen lining up outside dispensaries in Paterson and Maplewood before dawn to make their purchases
  • The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued licenses to seven alternative treatment centers to begin adult-use cannabis operations, including at 13 retail dispensaries
  • Thursday’s debut comes a year and a half after New Jersey voters approved a referendum allowing recreational marijuana use, joining 17 other states and the District of Columbia
  • Industry executives expect the market will exceed $2 billion within years. Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed budget anticipates $121 million in cannabis revenue, mostly from taxes and fees, in fiscal year 2023

Crowds of people flocked to New Jersey dispensaries after the state began selling recreational weed for the first time.

On Thursday, one day after ‘420 day,’ New Jersey became the 19th U.S state to legalize recreational marijuana sales. And hours later, hundreds flocked to existing medicinal dispensaries that are now allowed to sell the drug to anyone over the age of 21.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued licenses to seven alternative treatment centers to begin adult-use cannabis operations, including at 13 retail dispensaries where adult marijuana users 21 years and older will now be able to purchase up to an ounce of weed without a medical card.

Three of the seven alternate treatment centers are located in northern New Jersey, three in South Jersey, and one in central New Jersey, the New York Post reported.

Recreational weed was recently legalized in neighboring New York too – but retail stores have yet to open. It’s unclear how many from the Empire State traveled into New Jersey to take advantage of its newly-relaxed laws, but so-called cannabis tourists have been warned that taking the drug across state lines remains a federal offense.

Garden State residents wasted no time and dozens were seen lining up outside dispensaries in Paterson and Maplewood before dawn to make their purchases.

One of those dispensaries include Rise in Paterson, where customers were handed out free donuts and reggaetón music played on speakers, the New York Times reported.

‘I’m just excited that everything is opening up legally,’ 23-year-old Daniel Garcia, who drove 25 minutes from his Union City home told the Times.

‘Selecting 4/20 for opening day would have presented unmanageable logistical challenges for patients and other buyers, surrounding communities, and for municipalities,’ Toni-Anne Blake, a spokeswoman for the commission, told the Times.

Thursday’s debut comes a year and a half after New Jersey voters approved a referendum allowing recreational marijuana use, joining 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

Industry executives and analysts expect the market will exceed $2 billion within years. Governor Phil Murphy’s proposed budget anticipates $121 million in cannabis revenue, mostly from taxes and fees, in fiscal year 2023.

There are currently 130,000 medical marijuana patients in New Jersey, and the commission estimates there are roughly 800,000 potential recreational customers.

‘The goal here is to take people away from the black market and bring them into the safe, legal market,’ George Archos, chief executive of Verano said.

While medical marijuana dispensaries will initially be the only legal sites, the commission has received hundreds of applications from start-up businesses. Those owned by people with marijuana convictions as well as minorities, women and disabled veterans will receive priority consideration.

The law requires much of the state’s cannabis revenue to be invested in communities most harmed by the ‘war on drugs.’

In 2018, black people were arrested more than three times as often as white people for marijuana offenses despite similar usage rates, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

‘That’s the whole point here: making sure we’re pursuing equity every step of the way and ending our reliance on a criminal response for something that people consume all over the country,’ Amol Sinha, the group’s executive director said.

Frank Perullo, the president of Ascend, said the company’s Rochelle Park location has quadrupled its workforce to 125 and added 50 parking spaces as part of the ramp-up to Thursday.

Cannabis executives hope a successful launch in New Jersey will spur other east coast states to take action, noting that polls show a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

‘It’s time for legislators to catch up with the American consumer,’ Joe Bayern, the chief executive of Curaleaf said.

As of April 2022 there are now a total of 19 U.S. states — including New Jersey, California, New York and Arizona — that have legalized taking cannabis for recreational reasons, with 20 others allowing the drug to be used in medical settings.

The Federal Government has been urged to legalize the drug for recreational use nationwide and earlier this month congress voted to federally legalize marijuana with a vote of 220-204, mostly along party lines, sending the legislation to the Senate.

Three Republicans – Reps. Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast and Tom McClintock – voted alongside the Democratic majority, while two Democrats voted no with the GOP.

It marked the second time the Democrat-led House passed a bill to decriminalize pot, the first happening in December 2020.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act decriminalizes possession, distribution and manufacture of cannabis – and no longer classifies it as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Those in the cannabis industry heralded the news.

‘We are very encouraged by the passing of the MORE act in the House. We continue to believe the decriminalization of cannabis is long overdue. We hope the Senate will also see that legalization of cannabis will go a long way to righting the many wrongs that have happened for many years in our country while providing all Americans the opportunity to use cannabis medically or recreationally,’ said Peter Gallagher, the CEO of INSA, a leading east coast vertically integrated cannabis company.

Last week New York Governor Kathy Hochul approved licenses for 52 local weed farmers to grow marijuana for adult recreational use. New York state legalized recreational weed last year, with sales expected to begin later this year.

‘Legalization of adult-use cannabis is about more than a day on the calendar,’ she tweeted on Wednesday. ‘It’s about creating jobs and opportunities. It’s about supporting small businesses and farmers. It’s about righting the wrongs of the past.’