NJ recreational cannabis sales kick off with loud music and free food

BLOOMFIELD, NJ (AP) — Michael Barrows wore his Grateful Dead t-shirt and Jerry Garcia face mask to the opening day of recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey on Thursday, one of dozens who lined up before dawn to join the celebratory scene.

“It’s pretty amazing, exciting and if I get pulled over on the way home and they ask me if I have drugs in the car, I’m only allowed to say that,” said Barrows, holding the canister of marijuana. flower he has just bought. Cannabis possession is now legal in New Jersey, although 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 largest city, Newark, and not far from New York.

With blaring soul music, free donuts in the parking lot, and a balloon arch at the entrance, New Jersey’s cannabis kickoff for people 21 and older felt like more than a store opening.

Hagan Seeley, 23, said he had just learned a day early that recreational sales were starting and decided to see what the scene was like. He was impressed with the venue, decorated with an old station-style dashboard and long wooden tables displaying products under glass globes.

“It feels good. It feels safe. It’s like everything you’d want it to be rather than anything you could get anywhere else,” Seeley said.

The start of the recreational market comes a week after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state regulators cleared the way for recreational sales at seven “alternative treatment centers” that already offer medical cannabis. The seven centers operate 13 facilities across the state.

Murphy, who has long supported the legalization of recreational marijuana and signed the bill establishing the market, appeared at ZenLeaf in Elizabeth for his first day of recreational sales.

Charles Pfeiffer stood in line for about 2.5 hours on Thursday and said he thought he was the first recreational customer to make a purchase. He clapped loudly and threw his hands up when he was first ushered into the store, which is located in a mall next to a grocery store.

He bought cannabis flowers and candies for around $140 and joked about how quickly he would have to come back to buy more.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “Just kidding, probably in a week.”

He added: “Smoke. Let’s do it.”

New Jersey is one of 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 the first among its closest neighbors to begin recreational sales.

New York is moving forward with a recreational market, but sales aren’t expected to begin until the end of the year, state officials said.

Neighboring Pennsylvania has medical but not recreational cannabis. Some cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have passed ordinances to decriminalize marijuana or make it a low priority for law enforcement.

Legislation allowing recreational marijuana in Delaware was voted down in March.

Ben Kovler, president and CEO of Green Thumb Industries, which operates the Bloomfield dispensary, was at the opening Thursday. He said he expects demand to increase since news of the start of sales has only been public knowledge for a week.

“This is a moment in American history where Prohibition 2.0 is lifted,” he said in an interview ahead of the opening.

To gain regulatory approval, facilities told regulators they would not cut off access for patients with medical marijuana.

Ziad Ghanem, president and chief operating officer of TerrAscend, which operates centers in Maplewood and Philipsburg, said that to accommodate patients, the centers would have a “narrower menu” for recreational users.

Centers are also required to meet social equity standards, such as providing technical knowledge to new marijuana businesses, especially social equity applicants – those located in economically distressed areas of the state or people who have committed cannabis-related offences.

New Jersey’s tax revenue is expected to climb, but it’s unclear by how much. Murphy’s budget for fiscal year 2023 is pending before the Democratic-led Legislature and estimates revenue at just $19 million out of a budget of nearly $49 billion. In 2019, when the legalization of recreational marijuana was still pending before voters, he estimated around $60 million in revenue.

Legislation governing the recreational market provides for the application of the 6.625% sales tax, with 70% of revenue going to areas disproportionately affected by marijuana-related arrests. Black residents were more likely — up to three times more likely — to face marijuana charges than white residents. Municipalities can also levy a tax of up to 2%.

In a memo to law enforcement officers statewide, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin reminded police that unregulated marijuana continues to be an illegal substance.

State regulators say dispensaries are allowed to sell up to the equivalent of 1 ounce of cannabis, which means one ounce of dried flower, or 5 grams of concentrate, or 1,000 milligrams of edibles, like erasers. Perishable items like cookies and brownies are not available.