New Jersey Votes to Legalize Recreational Cannabis but Now What?

Congratulations to New Jersey residents for voting to pass recreational marijuana!

Ready to run out and buy some bud? Hold on one second…it’s not ready yet! An overwhelming response of 67% of voters agreed to pass marijuana legalization. So, what’s next? Legislatures at the state level now have the task of writing and negotiating the regulations that will govern the new market. Between the assembly committees, Senate, and House of Representatives they must agree on one set of laws. As of November, 24th 2020 there are two separate bills that must be reconciled and approved to move forward. Senate bill S21, and Assembly Bill A21 are very similar but there are disagreements on the way tax revenue is allocated and the number of licenses issued for new producers. Other important things that must be considered include home grow, workplace drug testing, decriminalization, limits on possession, and more. There is still work to be done!

Furthermore, Governor Phil Murphy has indicated that although he hopes it will take less time, widespread recreational marijuana sales will not take place for at least a year. New Jersey currently has a robust medical program with over 95,000 patients enrolled, but it faces daily challenges that need to be overcome before recreational cannabis takes effect. One of the major issues facing medical cannabis patients today are availability and accessibility.. Having only 13 cultivators in the state means that even without recreational users (and out of state adults) flooding the market, patients already have a difficult time accessing their medicine. It’s documented that some dispensaries regularly run out of product to sell with the current medical demand. Increasing the number of cultivators to grow more cannabis will be essential to operate at the level citizens will be expecting and be beneficial to medical patients as well. But crop cultivation and required operational procedures take time.

Jeff Brown, the New Jersey’s Department of Health’s head of the Marijuana Program has said that “I could say unequivocally that opening up sales even a few months after the election would be a disaster and would really hurt access for patients who need this as medicine. My number one priority is to ensure that the patients have access — that’s going to be our priority first and foremost.”

New Jersey residents can look at other states whose medical programs expanded to recreational users such as Massachusetts and Maine for a general idea of what is to come. Governor Murphy has indicated he wants this to happen within the year but for other states, it took a long time to initiate. Massachusetts started selling in 2018 after a 2016 “yes” vote and Maine only took effect this year after legalizing in ’16 as well!

Ideally, the transition will be smooth and rapid but medical patients should not let their certifications/cards lapse because of this. Medical cannabis users will always have priority over recreational users and will be benefitted in various ways. For example, in states with both medical and recreational cannabis use, patients have seen taxes are lower or nonexistent on their medication, which is already in motion in NJ as the current tax rate is at 4% and will be eliminated by 2022.  Other benefits include higher purchase limits for medical users; the ability to grow more at home; shorter lines and access to superior products; and so on. Dispensaries who serve both medical and recreational patients in these states are also able to provide incentives and discounts to patients as well.

The New Jersey recreational cannabis program is a huge step forward towards acceptance of cannabis around the country but do not forget that if you are using cannabis for medical reasons, your card is your best bet in making sure you have access to your medications no matter what!


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