The governor of New Jersey on Thursday marked the launch of the state’s adult-use marijuana market, speaking at an event at one of the first retailers to begin serving recreational consumers.
“I know a lot of New Jerseyans have been waiting for today, including yours truly,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in front of a line of customers waiting to get into the Verano dispensary. “This is a moment I’m incredibly proud to see us get to.”
New Jersey voters approved a legalization referendum at the ballot in 2020, and stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting the implementation of regulations that the legislature enacted last year. Now, 13 existing medical cannabis dispensaries are open for business for adult consumers.
Murphy acknowledged the protracted implementation, stressing that regulators have prioritized ensuring that the state’s marijuana industry is equitable and supports communities most impacted by criminalization.
“While this task could not happen overnight, the overriding need was to ensure our industry could stand as a model for other states in the nation—not just ensuring racial, social and economic equity and justice, but in ensuring a viable long-term framework for the industry at large,” the governor said.
“Today’s launch of adult-use sales is an important milestone,” he said. “Today is the start of an entirely new industry in our state.”
Today, recreational adult-use cannabis sales begin in New Jersey.
Today is the start of an entirely new industry for our state, and a historic moment in our work to advance social and economic justice.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) April 21, 2022
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which will be overseeing the adult-use market, announced this month that sales for the recreational market would start the day after the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20.
While some might question why the state didn’t take the opportunity to launch adult-use sales on April 20, there were some concerns about potential supply chain issues amid a need to ensure enough product remains available for the state’s medical cannabis patients.
“We all must remember that this is not the end of the journey. This is just the beginning,” Murphy said on Thursday. “We still have a long way to go before this industry fully develops into an industry that will create many new good paying jobs.”
He added that “we remain committed to ensuring that the industry grows in a way that reflects the diversity of our state and offers opportunities for any New Jerseyan who wishes to be a part of the legal, adult-use cannabis industry.”
— New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (@NewJerseyCRC) April 21, 2022
Senate President Nick Scutari (D) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) also attended Thursday’s event.
Scutari said he’s “thrilled” to participate in “today’s momentous and historic” launch. He previously said that delays in the rollout of legalization were unacceptable, and he announced he’d be forming a special legislative committee to explore the issue through oversight hearings.
CRC was initially expected to approve a first round of adult-use retail licenses for certain existing dispensaries last month, but they temporarily decided against it. The commission separately gave conditional approval to 68 marijuana cultivators and manufacturers last month.
“We expect 13 locations for the entire state will make for extremely busy stores,” CRC Executive Director Jeff Brown said in a press release. “The dispensaries have assured us that they are ready to meet the demand without disrupting patient access, and with minimal impact on the surrounding communities, but patience will be key to a good opening day.”
“We encourage everyone to be safe—buy only from licensed dispensaries and start low and go slow. Remember that the laws against impaired driving apply to being high,” he siad. “Our guests from neighboring states should remember it is illegal to transport cannabis across state lines.”
There’s been a mix of feelings about the timeline for legalization implementation among stakeholders. As regulators have worked to approve the first round of licenses, some advocates have pushed for expediency while others said that they felt it was important not to rush the process to ensure that the industry that emerges is equitable and not dominated by large corporations.
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The governor previously stressed that “equity is a huge part of our proposition here, and I know that may take longer than folks otherwise would like.” He’s also talked about being open-minded to permitting adults to grow their own marijuana for personal use down the line, but that it would take action by the legislature. Murphy similarly talked about being open to home grow late last year.
CRC Chair Dianna Houenou said earlier this month that regulators remain “committed to social equity.”
“We promised to build this market on the pillars of social equity and safety,” she said. “Ultimately, we hope to see businesses and a workforce that reflect the diversity of the state, and local communities that are positively impacted by this new and growing industry.”
The news of the adult-use market launch also coincided with reporting on a new memo from the state attorney general’s office on what police can and cannot do once recreational storefronts open.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D) issued a memo last week clarifying that state law mandates that New Jersey police who legally buy or use marijuana on their own time cannot be penalized after the adult-use market launches.
Separately, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) recently criticized New Jersey regulators about diversity issues in the marijuana market, saying he’s “outraged” over the lack of minority representation in the industry.
With respect to equity for the market, Murphy also recently touted the fact that the courts have expunged more than 362,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when a decriminalization law took effect that mandated the relief for people who have been caught up in prohibition enforcement.
Last month, CRC also held a series of public meetings where it received feedback on how best to allocate marijuana tax revenue after the recreational market opens.