Cannabis Sales in New Jersey Bring Excited Buyers

BLOOMFIELD, N.J. — Michael Barrows wore his Grateful Dead T-shirt and Jerry Garcia face mask for opening day of recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey on Thursday, one of dozens of people 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 I’m ever asked if I have any drugs in the car now I’m allowed to say only this,” Barrows said, holding up the canister of marijuana flower he had just purchased. New Jersey now allows possession of marijuana, but driving while under the influence is 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 biggest city, Newark, and not far from New York City.

With soul music blaring, free doughnuts in the parking lot, a steel drum and a balloon arch at the entrance, New Jersey’s cannabis kickoff for people 21 and older had the feel of a fair more than a store opening.

Hagan Seeley (23 years old) said that he just discovered recreational sales had begun a few days earlier and wanted to check out the scene. It was decorated with an old railway station tote board, long wooden tables and products beneath glass globes. He was very impressed.

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

This week, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state regulators had cleared the way for recreational sales at seven “alternative treatment centers” that had already offered medical cannabis. These seven centers manage 13 locations in the state.

Murphy has supported recreational marijuana legalization for many years and signed legislation that created the market. Murphy appeared at ZenLeaf Elizabeth to mark the first day of recreational cannabis sales. The governor said he wouldn’t be trying any marijuana, saying earlier this week it’s not his “thing,” and that he prefers Scotch. Murphy said he would be pushing for a “federal fix” for marijuana as well, though it was unclear whether he was referring to recreational legalization, national decriminalization or something else.

Hadi Battice (47), is a Navy vet and a medical marijuana card holder. He has post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s a regular at ZenLeaf and said he’s never seen the location as busy as it was Thursday.

New Jersey’s recreational cannabis law gives priority status to people of color, a fact that will help knock down “brick walls” people faced for years during the war on drugs, Battice said. “It’s about time that minorities, people of color, Black people, brown people actually have a chance to get into the business.”

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Charles Pfeiffer waited in line for 2.5 hours. He claimed that he thought he was first ZenLeaf customer. He cheered loudly, and then he was let in to the shop.

He bought cannabis flower and candy for about $140 and joked about how quickly he’d need to return to buy more.

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

ZenLeaf employee Destiny Pimentel said she came to realize the “benefits of responsible cannabis use” after her older brother died. “When I consume cannabis I am not as anxious and I can focus,” she said. She’s committed to showing people it’s possible to use cannabis and have a successful career, she added.

New Jersey is one of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational marijuana. New Jersey is among the 27 states which have legalized medicinal marijuana.

New Jersey’s first neighbor to offer recreational sales is New Jersey.

New York has begun to develop a recreational market. However, sales will not begin until after the year is over, officials from the state have stated.

Pennsylvania is a neighbour and has both medical marijuana but no recreational. The March defeat of legislation in Delaware to legalize recreational marijuana was a major blow.

Ben Kovler from Green Thumb Industries (which operates the Bloomfield dispensary) was there for the opening. Since the news about the sales launch was only known to the public for one week, he said that he expected demand to increase.

“It’s a moment in time in American history where prohibition 2.0 is lifted,” he said before the opening.

In order to obtain regulatory approval, they informed regulators that the facilities would not stop patients having access to medical marijuana.

Ziad Ghanem, of TerrAscend, said the centers would initially have a “narrower menu” for recreational users in order to accommodate patients.

The centers also are required to meet social equity standards, such as providing technical knowledge to new marijuana businesses, especially social equity applicants — those located in economically struggling parts of the state or people who have had cannabis-related offenses.

New Jersey’s tax revenues are expected to climb, but it’s not clear by how much. Murphy’s fiscal year 2023 budget is pending before the Legislature and estimates revenues of just $19 million in a nearly $49 billion budget.

The recreational marijuana market legislation requires that the 6.625% sales taxes be applied. 70% of proceeds will go to those areas most affected by cannabis-related arrests. Black residents were likelier — up to three times as much — to face marijuana charges than white residents. The town can also tax up to 2 percent.

Matt Platkin, Acting Attorney General of the State, reminded officers that illegal marijuana remains unregulated in a memo.

The state regulates dispensaries to allow them to sell 1 ounce or more of marijuana. That’s 5 grams of extract, 1,000mg of edibles or an ounce dried cannabis. There are no perishable products like brownies and cookies.

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