NEW JERSEY (PIX11/AP) — A decade-long fight to bring legal marijuana to New Jersey ended Thursday as the first recreational stores opened early in the morning. Seven dispensaries were authorized to start selling weed at 13 locations.
Michael Barrows wore his Grateful Dead T-shirt and Jerry Garcia face mask for the opening day of recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey on Thursday. He was among dozens lining up before dawn to join the celebratory scene.
“It’s pretty amazing, exciting, and if I get pulled over on the way home, and I’m ever asked if I have any drugs in the car, now I’m allowed to say, ‘Only this!’” Barrows said, holding up the canister of marijuana flower he had just purchased. Possession of cannabis is legal now in New Jersey, though driving under the influence is still prohibited.
Barrows, 60, joined a steady stream of other novelty seekers, longtime marijuana users, and medical patients at Rise in Bloomfield, near the state’s biggest city, Newark, and not far from New York City. With soul music blaring, free doughnuts in the parking lot, a steel drum, and a balloon arch at the entrance, New Jersey’s cannabis kickoff for people 21 and up felt more like a fair than a store opening.
Hagan Seeley, 23, said he had just found out a day earlier that recreational sales were starting and decided to see what the scene looked like. He was impressed with the venue, decorated with an old train station-style tote board and long wooden tables featuring products under glass globes.“It feels right. It feels safe,” he said. “It feels like everything you’d want it to be rather than anything you could get anywhere else.”
The shops are scattered across the state, from Maplewood to Paterson to Vineland. Dispensaries have assured state officials that they’re ready to meet demand without compromising the quality of the supply. New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission expected stores to sell out within the day.
The recreational marijuana industry is expected to bring billions into New Jersey’s economy. New Jersey’s tax revenues are expected to climb, but it’s not clear by how much. Gov. Phil Murphy’s fiscal year 2023 budget is pending before the Legislature and estimates revenues of just $19 million in a nearly $49 billion budget. For his part, Murphy said he’s relieved long-delayed public sales have finally begun.
Murphy has long backed recreational marijuana legalization and signed the bill the set up the marketplace. He appeared at ZenLeaf in Elizabeth for its first day of recreational sales. The governor said he wouldn’t be trying any marijuana, saying earlier this week it’s not his “thing,” and that he prefers Scotch. Murphy said he would be pushing for a “federal fix” for marijuana as well, though it was unclear whether he was referring to recreational legalization, national decriminalization, or something else.
Hadi Battice, 47, is a Navy veteran and medical marijuana cardholder for his post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s a regular at ZenLeaf and said he’s never seen the location as busy as it was Thursday. New Jersey’s recreational cannabis law gives priority status to people of color, a fact that will help knock down “brick walls” people faced for years during the war on drugs, Battice said. “It’s about time that minorities—people of color, Black people, brown people—actually have a chance to get into the business.”
Charles Pfeiffer stood in line for about two-and-a-half hours. He said he believed he was the first recreational customer to make a purchase at the ZenLeaf location. He cheered loudly and pumped his hands in the air when he was first let into the shop. He bought cannabis flower and candy for about $140 and joked about how quickly he’d need to return to buy more.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “I’m kidding. Probably within a week.”
ZenLeaf employee Destiny Pimentel said she came to realize the “benefits of responsible cannabis use” after her older brother died. “When I consume cannabis I am not as anxious, and I can focus,” she said. She’s committed to showing people it’s possible to use cannabis and have a successful career, she added.
There are still some rules and restrictions New Jersey residents should understand:
- You must be 21 or older to purchase marijuana
- You can buy 1 ounce of marijuana per visit—1 ounce of dried flower, 5 grams of concentrates and oils, 1,000 milligrams of edibles, or a combination
- Baked edibles like cookies and brownies cannot be sold
As far as what it will cost, expect a quarter of an ounce of flower to set you back about $110. Cartridges containing concentrates and oils should range from $35 to $60. Edibles will cost in the range of $60 to $80. You’ll also need to bring cash with you. Credit cards and mobile payment apps cannot be used. A few dispensaries will accept debit cards or have ATMs present.
New Jersey is among 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, with legalized recreational marijuana markets. Thirty-seven states, including New Jersey, have legalized medical marijuana. New Jersey is first among its closest neighbors to begin recreational sales.
New York is moving forward with a recreational market, but sales are not expected to start until the end of the year, state officials have said. Neighboring Pennsylvania has medical cannabis, but not recreational. Meanwhile, legislation to permit recreational marijuana in Delaware was defeated in March.
Ben Kovler, of Green Thumb Industries, which operates the Bloomfield dispensary, was at the opening Thursday. He said he expects demand to grow since news of the start of sales had only been known by the public for a week. “It’s a moment in time in American history where prohibition 2.0 is lifted,” he said before the opening.
To get regulatory approval, the facilities told regulators they would not interrupt access for medical marijuana patients. Ziad Ghanem, of TerrAscend, said the centers would initially have a “narrower menu” for recreational users in order to accommodate patients. The centers also are required to meet social equity standards, such as providing technical knowledge to new marijuana businesses, especially social equity applicants—those located in economically struggling parts of the state or people who have had cannabis-related offenses.
Legislation governing the recreational market calls for the 6.625% sales tax to apply, with 70% of the proceeds going to areas disproportionately affected by marijuana-related arrests. Black residents were likelier—up to three times as much—to face marijuana charges than white residents. Towns can also levy a tax of up to 2%.
In a memo to law enforcement officers across the state, acting Attorney General Matt Platkin reminded the police that unregulated marijuana continues to be an illegal substance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.