BLOOMFIELD, NJ – Michael Barrows wore his Grateful Dead t-shirt and Jerry Garcia face mask to the opening day of recreational marijuana sales in New Jersey on Thursday, one of dozens who lined up before the dawn to join the celebratory scene.
“It’s pretty amazing, exciting and if I get pulled over on the way home and they ask me if I have drugs in the car, I’m only allowed to say that,” said Barrows, holding the canister of marijuana. flower he has just bought. Cannabis possession is now legal in New Jersey, although driving under the influence is still 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 largest city, Newark, and not far from New York.
With thunderous soul music, free donuts in the parking lot, a steel drum and a balloon arch at the entrance, New Jersey’s cannabis kickoff for people 21 and older felt like to be more than a store opening.
Hagan Seeley, 23, said he had just heard a day early that recreational sales were starting and decided to see what the scene was like. He was impressed with the venue, decorated with an old station-style dashboard and long wooden tables displaying products under glass globes.
” It feels good. He feels safe. It’s like everything you’d want it to be rather than everything you could get anywhere else,” Seeley said.
The start of the recreational market comes a week after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced that state regulators cleared the way for recreational sales at seven “alternative treatment centers” that already offer medical cannabis. The seven centers operate 13 facilities across the state.
Murphy, who has long supported the legalization of recreational marijuana and signed the bill establishing the market, appeared at ZenLeaf in Elizabeth for his first day of recreational sales. The governor has said he won’t try marijuana, saying earlier this week it’s not his “thing” and he prefers scotch. Murphy said he would also push for a “federal solution” for marijuana, though it’s unclear whether he was referring to recreational legalization, national decriminalization or something else.
Hadi Battice, 47, is a Navy veteran and holder of a medical marijuana card for his post-traumatic stress disorder. He is a regular at ZenLeaf and said he has never seen the place as busy as Thursday.
New Jersey’s recreational cannabis law gives priority status to people of color, a fact that will help break down the “brick walls” people have faced for years during the war on drugs, Battice said. “It’s time for minorities, people of color, black people, brown people to have a chance to get into the business.”
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Charles Pfeiffer waited in line for about 2.5 hours and said he thought he was the first recreational customer to make a purchase on the ZenLeaf site. He clapped loudly and threw his hands up when he was first ushered into the store.
He bought cannabis flower and candy for around $140 and joked about how quickly he would have to come back for more.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “Just kidding, probably in a week.”
ZenLeaf employee Destiny Pimentel said she realized the “benefits of responsible cannabis use” after her older brother died. “When I’m using cannabis, I’m not as anxious and I can concentrate,” she said. She is committed to showing people that it is possible to use cannabis and have a successful career, she added.
New Jersey is one of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, with legalized recreational marijuana markets. Thirty-seven states, including New Jersey, have legalized medical marijuana.
New Jersey is the first among its closest neighbors to begin recreational sales.
New York is moving forward with a recreational market, but sales aren’t expected to begin until the end of the year, state officials said.
Neighboring Pennsylvania has medical but not recreational cannabis. Legislation allowing recreational marijuana in Delaware was voted down in March.
Ben Kovler of Green Thumb Industries, which operates the Bloomfield dispensary, was at the opening on Thursday. He said he expects demand to increase since news of the start of sales has only been public knowledge for a week.
“This is a moment in American history where Prohibition 2.0 is lifted,” he said before the opening.
To gain regulatory approval, facilities told regulators they would not cut off access for patients with medical marijuana.
Ziad Ghanem of TerrAscend said centers would initially have a “narrower menu” for recreational users to accommodate patients.
Centers are also required to meet social equity standards, such as providing technical knowledge to new marijuana businesses, especially social equity applicants – those located in economically distressed areas of the state or people who have committed cannabis-related offences.
New Jersey’s tax revenue is expected to climb, but it’s unclear by how much. Murphy’s fiscal year 2023 budget is pending before the Legislature and estimates revenue at just $19 million out of a nearly $49 billion budget.
Legislation governing the recreational market provides for the application of the 6.625% sales tax, with 70% of revenue going to areas disproportionately affected by marijuana-related arrests. Black residents were more likely — up to three times more likely — to face marijuana charges than white residents. Municipalities can also levy a tax of up to 2%.
In a memo to law enforcement officers statewide, Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin reminded police that unregulated marijuana continues to be an illegal substance.
State regulators say dispensaries are allowed to sell up to the equivalent of 1 ounce of cannabis, which means one ounce of dried flower, or 5 grams of concentrate, or 1,000 milligrams of edibles, like erasers. Perishable items like cookies and brownies are not available.
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