Even if ballot question passes, legal pot sales won’t start soon
If the polls are accurate, meaning voters approve a constitutional amendment legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana, that doesn’t mean sales will be legal the next day – or anytime soon.
“Well, God and the voters willing on Tuesday and this ballot question passes, there’s a fairly lengthy process before I think you’ll see adult-use sales in New Jersey,” said Bill Caruso, a lawyer and member of the steering committee of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.
Initial results will be unofficial, as they always are, and then finalized by the counties Nov. 20. They will be certified by the state Dec. 8. If approved, the constitutional amendment will take effect Jan. 1, but even that wouldn’t be the start date.
Try, six months or more beyond that.
“The Legislature has to adopt an enactment bill, so the Legislature must act to really set up a statutory and subsequent regulatory framework for this to begin,” Caruso said. “… I would sense it would be third quarter of 2021 at the earliest before you’d see adult-use available.”
The current state budget, which extends through June 30, doesn’t count on any revenue from legal, regulated sales of recreational marijuana.
Caruso said the first sales are likely to take place at some of the 12 medical marijuana dispensaries that are already licensed. All but two have retail storefronts open for registered patients.
“They will be able to transition to adult use if they choose, and it will be conditioned on local approval and then state approval that they have enough supply to serve the patient market,” Caruso said. “I don’t know that’s the case yet. So I think there’s a race right now for them to ramp up their supply and be able to meet those accommodations.”
Proponents in the Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office intend to get the enabling legislation passed before the end of the year, Caruso said. He said that would lead to a process of enacting regulations and “then really a race on supply.”
“We still have an issue to make sure we meet the supply needs of the patients first. That’s a paramount policy concern,” Caruso said. “It’s been a concern for advocacy (groups), and I can tell you absolutely one of the number one concerns from the Department of Health right is now is just making sure that patients have enough supply.”
A constitutional amendment isn’t actually necessary for the Legislature to approve recreational marijuana, but the proposal couldn’t muster the needed support in the Senate. Some reluctant lawmakers indicated they’d be willing to act if the approval was specifically given by voters.
“This is a tough issue. And given the dynamic that it is still illegal at the federal level and some moral issues that I think that other legislators have at least been tormented with or dealt with, they needed the public to weigh in,” Caruso said.
“I think the court of public opinion has changed drastically, where around 2014 when efforts first started, we were looking at maybe the high 40s, where today we’re seeing polls in some cases in the high 60s,” he said. “So a lot has changed in a short amount of time.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.