New Jersey is the 19th state where recreational marijuana is sold.
Seven medical marijuana dispensaries in the Garden State were given the green light to sell recreational pot at 13 locations in a vote by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission on April 11.
What does that mean for people looking to buy pre-rolled marijuana joints, edibles or an ounce of "flower"? We asked two experts: longtime legalization advocate Chris Goldstein of NORML, and attorney Rob DiPisa, who represents marijuana companies on real estate and compliance issues.
When Will Recreational Marijuana Be Available in NJ?
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced sales will begin on Thursday.
New Jersey lawmakers had initially purposefully left deadlines out of marijuana legislation. They were concerned, in part, that a rush to allow legal sales would lead to supply shortages and long lines, Goldstein said. Despite the lack of deadlines, Goldstein as well as officials with the state's CRC expressed optimism following the April 11 approvals about "opening day" for recreational weed.
Supply problems create the most worrisome issue for prospective buyers in the months ahead. Also, frustrations for mom-and-pop retail shops could mount if licenses for smaller pot businesses are not issued for awhile, Goldstein and DiPisa said.
Where Can I Buy Weed Legally in NJ?
There are currently only medical marijuana dispensaries operating in New Jersey. Those are run by eight national companies, which combine to have 23 locations throughout the state. Here is a map of the locations.
Seven of those companies received the final approvals for recreational licenses and will be the first to expand into that realm soon. Many more prospective recreational retailers are also trying to open in New Jersey.
In fact, the CRC has issued 102 conditional approvals, which include dozens of small start-up businesses. But DiPisa said significant hurdles remain for start-up retailers, including securing zero- and low-interest loans and gaining local permits from municipalities to open.
Conditional approvals are not the same as the seven approvals handed out April 11 by the CRC, and are just an initial step in the regulatory process toward a state license. DiPisa said a way to improve the process for dozens of smaller prospective retailers is to free up those advantageous loans during the conditional approval phase. That is not currently the case, he said.
Why Are Big Weed Companies Like Curaleaf and Ascend Getting First Dibs on Recreational Pot in NJ?
One part of the 2021 legislation allowing recreational marijuana use stipulated that the existing medical marijuana dispensaries would get the first approvals, Goldstein said.
"The CRC may have wanted to have a broader opening day" that included other retailers, he said, but the commission doesn't really have much wiggle room because of the way the law is written.
The seven medical pot companies, which will sell recreational marijuana at 13 dispensaries, are:
- Acreage CCF New Jersey
- Columbia Care
- GTI New Jersey
- Ascend New Jersey
Those companies are multi-state operators, meaning they have existing marijuana businesses in locations across the United States.
How Much Does Marijuana Cost in NJ?
The first thing to know is that it costs a lot, the experts said, both for medicinal purposes and, eventually, for recreational purposes.
An ounce of "flower," which is the raw bud product, costs between $320 to $480 for New Jersey medicinal patients, according to a recent published report by NJ.com. There is no state-regulated price, but there are state and local sales taxes based on weight that add to prices set by retailers.
The cost is high compared to prices in other states, including Maine, Florida and those in the West Coast. That has a lot to do with supply, real estate costs, and high local and cannabis-specific taxes, the experts said.
Nearby Pennsylvania patients also must pay very high prices for medicinal marijuana, Goldstein said. He mostly blames a system dominated by national corporations and rigid regulatory hurdles.
"A gram of gold is going for $62 these days. A gram of hash oil in Pennsylvania dispensaries sells for $100," Goldstein said. "You're telling me cannabis costs more to produce than the discovery, mining and refining of a precious metal?"
Stories about Legal Marijuana
Both Goldstein and DiPisa are hopeful that New Jersey buyers will eventually see the cost of marijuana go down as supply increases and more locations open.
"There are still a lot of people who say to me, 'Hey Chris, why do you do this?' It’s going to be gobbled up by corporations," Goldstein said of his advocacy for an expansion of the industry in Northeast states. "On a day like this in New Jersey (following the April 11 approvals), it feels like that a little bit. But maybe we’ll learn lessons along the way and it’ll get better."
DiPisa said federal and state marijuana laws don't make it easy on the big or small retailers and cultivators.
"These companies, especially the multi-state operators are dealing with a fragmented approach that isn't usual in other industries," he said. "There is a different set of regulations in every state they're operating in. It's not an efficient way to run a business, but we're dealing with the hands we're dealt."