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New Jersey Cannabis Legalization, Restrictions Compete with Illegal Sales



Following a vote in November pushing to legalize recreational cannabis in November, New Jersey is pressing forward to establish regulations to open up the market. However, with neighboring states, and states across the country, making similar moves, it calls into question if the new measures are enough to combat the black market.

For one, unlike many states that have allowed households to grow a certain number of plants for personal use, New Jersey has banned personal, adult-use cannabis gardening. Specifically, cultivation requires a license and is only for commercial use, and anyone growing their own cannabis is committing the crime of cannabis “manufacture.”

The New Jersey Code 2C:35-5 – Manufacturing, Distributing, or Dispensing reads, “… it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or purposely: To manufacture, … a controlled, dangerous substance … with respect to …  [cannabis] in a quantity of less than one ounce … is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.” 

This is in contrast to the new law in neighboring New York, which allows adults to cultivate up to six plants, or 12 in a household with more than one adult.

The new law in New Jersey also caps the number of state grow licenses at 37, including the 12 existing medical cannabis growers, through 2023. Some say it could be too limiting as the legal market begins to pick up, especially given that thousands of applicants will need to vie for one of only 25 new cannabis growing licenses.

The scarcity of grow licenses can also point to another issue that other states have seen: the price of recreational cannabis, especially in restricted and newly recreational markets, is often much higher than the black market. 

Insider NJ columnist Jay Lassiter writes that an ounce of top-tier bud at a New Jersey dispensary could easily run $400 to $500 today, while the black market cuts the price in half, with no tax and, additionally,  no “tumbling” of the weed, which often strips flower of terpenes and therapeutic compounds that help enhance the overall quality.

Despite the limited grow licenses, it will ultimately be up to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Committee to decide how many stores will be allowed and if an amendment on the grow license cap could be considered before 2023.

New Jersey is not unlike many other states who have followed this path, and the related road bumps associated in piecing together proper regulation. As neighbors and more states across the country push toward cannabis legalization, New Jersey leaders admit there will be a long road ahead.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve finally arrived at this historic day,” said Dianna Houenou, chair of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, during the commission’s first meeting last month. “Standing up an entirely new state agency is no small task, but I’m grateful to everyone who made this day possible.”