Legal Marijuana Sales Will Start Next Thursday in New Jersey

The first sales of recreational, adult-use cannabis in New Jersey are expected to start next Thursday, marking the culmination of a yearslong effort to legalize marijuana and to curtail the racially unbalanced penalties for possessing the drug.

Roughly a half-dozen medical-marijuana dispensaries are planning to open their doors to all adults on April 21 after winning final approval this week from New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced on Thursday.

Enthusiasm within the industry was palpable. Dispensaries in Bloomfield and Paterson, which are both about 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, were making plans to entertain customers waiting in line with a D.J., doughnut truck and a steel drum band.

While eager for the added revenue, political leaders said they were bracing for the potential for extra crowds and car traffic.

In Maplewood, where a medical-marijuana dispensary that operates on a main street was preparing to open to all adults, the mayor, Dean Dafis, said he had called a meeting Thursday afternoon to finalize the township’s strategy.

“The only issue we really have to deal with is traffic,” said J. Christian Bollwage, the mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey’s fourth-largest city where a dispensary is expected to open on Route 9, about three miles from Newark Liberty International Airport. He said the dispensary was responsible for hiring and paying off-duty police officers to direct traffic near the shop, which has a parking lot near a grocery store.

Towns that permit cannabis businesses to operate may charge an extra 2 percent tax in addition to state taxes and surcharges.

“The revenue is a good thing for the city of Elizabeth,” Mr. Bollwage, a Democrat, said. “We’re going to be surrounded by it, so why not get the revenue?”

New Jersey voters approved a referendum legalizing marijuana in November 2020, but it was not until this week that the commission established a pathway for the first legal sales of adult-use, recreational cannabis. On Monday, 13 medical-marijuana dispensaries got the go-ahead to sell their products to all adults, but not all are expected to be ready to open April 21.

Each dispensary had to demonstrate it had enough of a supply for both medical and recreational customers as well as plans in place to ensure that patients were not edged out by the flood of customers expected in the early days of legal sales in the densely populated region.

Ken Wolski, a nurse and the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, said he was satisfied that New Jersey had prioritized the state’s 170,000 registered medical-marijuana patients.

“I’m happy that sales are starting now,” Mr. Wolski said. “The goal of our organization is to get this essential medicine to the most people.”

Still, one of the biggest cannabis companies in the state, Curaleaf, suggested that medical-marijuana clients might want to avoid crowds by stocking up on marijuana this week.

“The Garden State is about to get greener, so if you’re a medical patient, make sure you shop now to avoid the lines — and get the medicine you need,” an advertisement read.

New Jersey’s initial legal sales will occur only at medical-marijuana dispensaries, which are run mainly by large multistate and international cannabis corporations.

But the state has also received more than 320 applications from smaller entrepreneurs hoping to open recreational cannabis retail shops. Decisions about those applications are not expected for at least another month, and it is likely to be a year or more before the stores would be ready to open.

The state has also granted conditional approval to 102 companies that applied to either grow or manufacture cannabis. These companies must now find a location to operate — and permission from the host town — before their conditional permits can be considered valid.

Only people 21 and older will be permitted to purchase cannabis.

But Nick DeMauro, a former police detective in Bergen County, N.J., said that as legal sales start, it was also important to bolster programs that educate students on the risks of underage cannabis use.

“It’s not going to go away,” said Mr. DeMauro, chief executive of Law Enforcement Against Drugs & Violence. “We have to intensify our efforts to make sure kids make good decisions.”

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