NJ launches recreational marijuana program

NJ launches recreational marijuana program

“You don’t want to go to jail for smoking pot. Now, I don’t have to worry about that part,” Ms. Wallace said outside The Apothecarium Dispensary in this suburb of New York City.

She was among the first people in New Jersey to buy recreational marijuana legally as part of a voter-approved program that launched at 13 dispensaries across the state on Thursday. Now, anyone 21 or older can walk in and choose what they want from enclosed cases in stores arrayed like high-end jewelry shops.

The Maplewood kickoff started about an hour late, but no one in line seemed to mind as they perused clipboard menus offering 3.5 grams of “Wet Betty” for $65 or “Grease Monkey Littles” for $40. Shoppers said it’s nice to see their relaxation aid-of-choice placed on par with alcohol under state law.

“It’s calming, very calming. I don’t do it to get spaced out in my mind. I’m not trying to go to Pluto, I’ll stay on Earth, but I want to relax,” said Ms. Wallace, who has been smoking pot since she was 15. “I’m 57 now. I stopped for about five years in between, but — I love weed.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is banking on eager buyers to drive up revenue for the state and reverse a war on drugs that is viewed by some policymakers as an unjust burden on poorer Americans and minorities.

“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,” Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, tweeted Thursday.

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The Garden State launch is another sign of how swiftly attitudes toward marijuana have changed since a decade ago.

Colorado and Washington State become the first places in America to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Since then, 16 states and the District of Columbia have joined them, though sales haven’t started yet in places like New York.

On Capitol Hill, the Democrat-led House recently passed a bill to legalize weed at the federal level, though it faces a higher bar in the evenly divided Senate.

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission said recreational cannabis customers will be able to buy up to 1 ounce of dried flower or up to 5 grams of concentrates, resins, or oils, or ten 100mg packages of ingestible items in a single transaction.

The Maplewood dispensary is one of five participating in the program in northern New Jersey. There are two in the central part of the state and six in South Jersey.

“We expect 13 locations for the entire state will make for extremely busy stores,” commission Executive Director Jeff Brown. “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.”

Mr. Brown reminded visitors from out of state that it is illegal to transport cannabis across state lines and that the laws against impaired driving apply to being high.

The Maplewood dispensary opened last year and served clients with medical marijuana cards, though the town wanted to be in a position to serve the broader customer base after the state referendum.

Deputy Mayor Victor de Luca said the town is allowed to impose a 2% tax on adult-use marijuana sales. It expects $175,000 to flow into its general fund this year, and the dispensary will be contributing to community events and drug abuse prevention programs.

He said there hasn’t been much local opposition after over 70% of the municipality supported the measure compared to the 67%-33% split statewide on the November 2020 ballot question that approved the program.

“We were high — not high in that sense, but higher than the vote total,” Mr. de Luca said.

“It’s a personal choice and people can use it,” he said of marijuana. “I also think the war on drugs has been the war on people of color and low-income folks. I think this is hopefully turning away from that.”

Each dispensary will set different prices but adult-use purchases will be subject to a 6.625% sales tax from the state. Persons with a medical marijuana card will pay a 2% sales tax until June 30, 2022, and no sales tax on purchases after July 1, 2022.

The Maplewood dispensary offered a separate line for medical-marijuana customers to ensure their existing clients weren’t left in the cold amid the rush of recreational customers.

“I hope they can distinguish patients from recreational use and be able to make sure that patients get the medicine they need,” said Tyler Napoleone, 28, of Elizabeth, who uses marijuana for anxiety.

Medical marijuana customers were allowed in the store first on Thursday, and the dispensary will offer medical customer-only hours during the week.

The inside of the store was open and clean and featured counters with electronic tablets for ordering. Glass cases showcased the wares — akin to an Apple Store, except there was a “Bud Bar” instead of a “Genius Bar.”

Customers also could buy T-shirts and other merchandise alongside the smorgasbord of pot options.

“It’s about time,” Nick Amabile, 32, of Florham Park, said of the legal program he stood in line outside. “It’s just regular, it feels more comfortable, it’s steady. It’s not a guessing game.”

Some customers said they expected to see a bit of a markup from what a street dealer would charge, though others said the prices seemed in line with the underground market and that the ease of shopping made it all worth it.

“I’d rather be able to come to the store and pick and choose what I want,” Ms. Wallace said. “It’s safer that way instead of dealing with a drug dealer on the street. You got to wait on him, if he ain’t around, then you gotta call somebody else. And you don’t know what you’re getting.”

Rafael M., a 42-year-old from nearby Union, said state voters are seeing the “flowers of their labor” and the grand opening is a welcome sight after a bruising pandemic.

“We went from COVID testing just across the street in that parking lot for two years to this,” he said, adding he might cap the event with a Jersey breakfast specialty. “There will be a Taylor ham, egg and cheese involved.”