Understanding New Jersey Law Regarding Recreational Cannabis Intake

22 February, 2021
Understanding New Jersey Law Regarding Recreational Cannabis Intake

Alright, Jersey people. You know what's up. Cannabis has finally been legalized and decriminalized in your neck of the woods, so it's time to celebrate! Not only that, but there is some talk that the Garden State (which really is the perfect moniker for a legal state) will be among the biggest markets in the industry. 

But hey, not so fast! Before you grab that pipe, it's important to understand that just because it’s legal doesn't mean you can simply go to town. 

Lawmakers had intended to move quickly on implementation, however, there were a few bumps in the road. Despite the turbulence, an agreement was reached, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy gave the new bills his signature on February 22, 2021. 

The next step is for the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to work out the details for implementation. To give you a little perspective, Massachusetts didn't see any dispensaries for another two years after recreational cannabis was legalized. 

By some optimistic estimates, licenses for recreational purposes could be issued as early as fall 2021. Governor Murphy himself has estimated it will take anywhere from six to nine months before the recreational (termed "adult-use") market is in full swing. With that said, you have plenty of time to educate yourself on different products, strains, types, terpenes, and cannabinoids. 

Now that the law has been signed, you're on your way to recreational wonderland, however, it is important to gain a clearer understanding of what you can and can't do. This is what you need to know about the New Jersey law regarding cannabis intake.

It's Just the Beginning

While it's easy to get excited, there is a lot of work that has to be done before you will see non-medical neighborhood dispensaries pop up. Members of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission have to get into the nitty-gritty, deciding on a number of rules and regulations that will determine how cannabis is tested, who receives licenses, how they are issued, and the number of permits the state will distribute.

On Monday, April 12, 2021, the newly formed commission had its first virtual meeting to start laying the groundwork, with a six-month estimated timeline to create foundational policies. So far, they have determined that 37 licenses will be available for distribution over the next two years, which has some current cultivators concerned that they will be pushed out of the market.

The commission had another meeting on Thursday, April 22, where its members received questions from live viewers. Many who tuned in had concerns over the feasibility of smaller businesses finding space in the marketplace, especially those run by women and minorities, but members of the CRC were unable to provide answers at that time. The commission did confirm, however, that it will be distributing 25 percent of the allotted licenses to businesses with a maximum of 10 employees, otherwise known as “microbusinesses.” 

Aside from accepting questions from constituents, this second meeting focused on the task of creating a set of testing regulations for cannabis products. For the time being, New Jersey will likely use another state’s policy until the commission works out its own testing standardization.

Prior to the commission’s formation, it had already been established that there will be a 6.625 percent state tax on all cannabis products sold in New Jersey. Certain municipalities in the state may carry a tax that is 2 percent higher, but there's still much work to be done before we see what that looks like.

The Legal Details

All New Jersey residents 21 and up without a qualifying medical condition are legally permitted to obtain as much as six ounces of cannabis and up to 17 grams of hashish. Medical patients over the age of 18 who receive a doctor’s recommendation may purchase products in the form of flower, topical agents, lozenges, and oils. The limit for medical purposes is 3 ounces per month, with a 4 percent sales tax that is to be phased out in July 2022. The 3-ounce limit does not apply to patients who are terminally ill or under the care of hospice. In such cases, there are no set limitations.

At present, distribution for medical purposes is handled through Alternative Treatment Centers. Recreational vending will be determined by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, and home growth is still prohibited, even for medical patients.

Cannabis consumption, whether it’s adult-use or medical-use, is to be conducted within the confines of a private residence. Those who choose to smoke cannabis will have to refer to the Smoke-Free Air Act for further guidelines. 

The Holdup 

January 1 came and went, and yet the decriminalization and legalization of recreational cannabis consumption did not take effect as was expected. The problem was that elected officials were at a standstill regarding how to proceed when a minor is charged with possession. 

Governor Murphy was unwilling to sign off until a decision was reached that would establish underage penalties. What was initially on the table was a fine of $250 for those under 21 possessing one ounce or less. The fine would double if the amount ranged from 1 to 6 ounces. 

Negotiations extended as Governor Murphy worked with lawmakers to come to a resolution. Both the proposed legalization and decriminalization bills were contradicting each other; the former penalized possession by any individual under 21, while the latter alleviated criminal charges for anyone possessing 6 ounces or less, regardless of age.

New Jersey residents were hanging in limbo, but fortunately, lawmakers drafted a “cleanup bill,” which calls for those under the age of 21 who are caught possessing cannabis products to be issued a warning and made to satisfy community service requirements.

The legalization of recreational cannabis consumption in New Jersey has implications that reach beyond the Garden State. It sets a precedent that could lead adjacent states to join in legalizing recreational consumption. In fact, New York followed New Jersey’s lead less than two months after Governor Murphy signed the legalization and decriminalization bills. Now, a little over a third of the country has fully legalized cannabis consumption.  

There’s an important social justice element to the passing of these laws as well. A significant percentage of revenue that’s generated from taxes and fees from legal cannabis sales will be directed at efforts to reverse the harm that has resulted from the war on drugs.    

Slowly but surely, the U.S. is transitioning to a greener future!