Recreational marijuana will be available for consumers in New Jersey starting April 21st, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.
“Adults ages 21+ will be able to legally purchase cannabis and cannabis products without a medical card,” Murphy said in a tweet. “This is a historic step in our work to create a new cannabis industry.”
The announcement is a significant win for legalization advocates and pot enthusiasts in what has been a tortuous regulatory process since Garden State voters overwhelmingly approved legalization in 2020.
The April 21st start date — a day after 4/20, the unofficial weed holiday — follows a vote this week by New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission that cleared the way for medical marijuana dispensaries to open their doors to the general public. It’s expected to draw customers from around the region — specifically New York, where legal sales aren’t expected to start until the end of 2022.
But the path from voter approval to retail sales has not been an easy one. New Jersey missed its planned February 22nd start date over continued concerns about supply and licensing. That followed months of legislative wrangling and debate over the best way to implement a market that is expected to do about $1 billion in annual revenue.
“From the beginning, the goal has been to stand up the industry correctly, and we hope to see sustained momentum in getting the adult-use market off the ground for the benefit of New Jersey consumers and businesses, and our state’s economic development,” Craig Coughlin, speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, said in a statement on the commission’s vote Monday.
Last month, Jeff Brown, the CRC’s executive director, said that he and other regulators were not yet confident that all of the medical marijuana companies seeking to expand into the recreational market were ready to do so. He raised concerns about whether those suppliers would have enough cannabis to meet demand while also ensuring continued access for their medical patients. But Brown said regulators would work with the companies to prepare for the transition.
This first batch of companies who will sell retail marijuana products include several large, multi-state operators, some of which also have businesses in New York. They are Acreage Holdings, Curaleaf, Columbia Care, Verano, Green Thumb Industries, Ascend Wellness and TerrAscend.
That decision runs somewhat contrary to a pledge made by New Jersey officials, who said they would prioritize diversity and social equity in the recreational licensing process. Because officials only opened up applications for retail licenses in the program on March 15th, the medical companies that got approved for recreational sales on Monday will have a head start over newer entrants.
New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission gave preliminary approval this week for a total of 14 dispensaries to sell cannabis to those over 21, although a spokesperson said Thursday it’s unclear which of those will be ready to begin non-medical sales by April 21st. Paterson, Elizabeth, Maplewood and Edgewater Park are among the municipalities that could see recreational sales soon.