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One year after NJ adult-use marijuana law, still no legal sales

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TRENTON – One year ago Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana in New Jersey – but don’t run out to a state-regulated dispensary to celebrate.

Sales still haven’t begun though could be getting close. Applications for new recreational retailers will begin to be accepted by the state next month, starting a months-long review process, but sales are going to begin first at medical marijuana dispensaries that get certified for an expansion.

When that will happen remains to be seen. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission meets on Thursday but doesn’t have the recreational expansions on its agenda. At the CRC’s late January meeting, executive director Jeff Brown said most of the certifications still had “major deficiencies” still being resolved.

“And the one that pops up over and over and over again and by far is the most prevalent is a lack of municipal approval,” Brown said.

According to state law and CRC regulations, alternative treatment centers cannot expand unless they have approval from their host municipality, enough supply of marijuana for both their medical patients and the recreational market and the operational capacity to ensure medical patients aren’t hurt by the expansion. Brown said ATCs have known what’s required, even before getting guidance in November.

“There’s a level of frustration here at the commission, certainly with me, certainly with staff and others, that there’s an effort to pressure us to move forward in a way that’s not compliant with the law,” Brown said. “And that’s just simply not going to happen.”

“When we turn on recreational sales and there are limited outlets to get recreational cannabis, they are going to be crowded,” he said. “And we want to see specific measures to ensure that patients continue to be served first.”

Bill Caruso, an attorney and founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said a lot of arbitrary dates have been set in the rollout of legal recreational marijuana in New Jersey, all the way back to Murphy saying as a candidate that it would be legal within his first 100 days as governor.

While some people have expressed frustration that sales haven’t begun a year after the law was signed, the CRC says the anniversary was never an official start date. Caruso said it’s not surprising that the wheels of government run slower than people would like but that the ATCs are getting close.

“They’re working through both their state regulatory approvals and their local municipal approvals, and I think there’s been some challenges particularly as towns are grappling with this new concept, working through some of the details. But that is happening, so we’re close,” Caruso said.

“I think we’re in the position of we’re within weeks of hopefully potentially having the adult-use sales begin in our state, tax revenue to flow and all the like,” he said.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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