The Garden State is about to get a whole new crop. New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana in the November 2020 election, along with Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana (plus Mississippi’s new medical program). In passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 183 (SCR 183) the state completes a goal that it has been chasing practically since legalization began.
While there is significant reason for celebration at this announcement, the (Jersey) devil is in the details, and what the measure provides for, especially in the immediate aftermath, might not quite be what New Jerseyans think it is. Join us on the Jersey shore as we take a closer look at this new cannabis outpost on the east coast.
What SCR 183 Allows (and Doesn’t) for Marijuana Legalization
As of this writing, the law SCR 183 has not yet gone into effect, it will be enacted on January 1, 2021. So don’t go smoking anything just yet. However, once it is official, the law still doesn’t allow for much. New Jersey is yet to establish guidelines concerning recreational marijuana possession.
Overall, the state hasn’t established guidelines for anything cannabis-related yet, except for what you can’t do, and here is the bad news: there is currently no legal way to smoke recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
“Huh?” you might be asking. “Didn’t the state just legalize?” Well, yes and no. What the state legalized was “regulated” cannabis, and it will allow a system of cultivation, production, testing, distribution, and sales to be created to sell it. But “regulated” marijuana means that it was obtained at a dispensary. All other recreational cannabis is still illegal in the state. And no, you also can’t grow your own.
What is “Regulated” Marijuana (and Why Does it Matter)?
Okay, no problem right? Just have to go to a dispensary to get it. Well, sure you can! …In about one to three years. Or at least that’s the average guess. While that sounds far off and frustrating, in many ways it is normal for a newly legalized marijuana law to take that long to implement sales.
Before dispensaries can open the state must establish guidelines, accept business applications, grant licenses, conduct inspections, grow crops, test crops, cure crops, produce, package, and finally distribute cannabis products. Each of these steps must be carefully mapped out, assigned rules for compliance, and have fees or consequences set for breaking those rules.
New Jersey is yet to set regulations and guidelines for its cannabis market.
These are the regulations in “regulated” cannabis the law alludes to, and with good purpose. The state intends to be sure that cannabis is as safe and legitimate as possible, as all previous legalized states have. The hitch is that those other states have not restricted legalization to only regulated cannabis. This is usually done in the interest of reducing the conviction and incarceration rate for cannabis offenses now that weed is, well, “legal” in that state.
Due to this unique restriction, New Jersey residents who may have obtained cannabis by other means after January 1, 2021, still won’t be able to legally light up, and that fact will probably come as a surprise to more than a few.
When to Expect New Jersey Dispensaries to Open
Most of the states that go through this process set a timeline of deadlines the state must comply with. The important goals that are commonly set are: when guidelines will be finalized, when applications will start being accepted, and when licenses must be issued by. While this roadmap is sometimes off or delayed, it is often a good projection of how fast or slow a state is going to move forward on legalization.
New Jersey has set no timetable, and its lack of guidelines has many nervous. The fact that not even possession limits are set doesn’t send the best message. However, New Jersey residents might not need to fret for as long as they think. Gov. Murphy, who has been advocating for cannabis legalization for the entirety of his time as governor, has been vocal about trying to move quickly. Gov. Murphy has stated he intends to use the basis of previous legislative efforts to design the new system, in hopes to expedite the process. New Jersey State Senators have stated they are already preparing bills for submission.
Optimists say around spring of next year, and pessimists or realists (depending on whom you ask) remember that Gov. Murphy originally intended to legalize within his first 100 days in office back in January of 2018. That’s not to question the governor’s work or determination to the matter, but to serve as a reminder that bureaucracy is slow to move and often. For now, New Jerseyans will have to continue to do what they’ve been doing since legalization started: keep waiting.
What does New Jersey’s legalization mean to you? Tell us all about it in the comments section!
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