NJ begins considering rules for marijuana consumption lounges
TRENTON – New Jersey’s recreational marijuana industry keeps slogging toward its debut, with applications to expand five medical dispensaries now deemed complete – though still being reviewed. Another three are still incomplete.
Applications filed in December for new cultivation and manufacturing businesses won’t be decided on by a mid-March target date, but regulators hope it won’t be long after that.
But the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is also looking ahead to what the industry will look like once it gets off the ground so held a public hearing Thursday on what its rules should include regarding indoor and outdoor marijuana consumption lounges.
Suzaynn Schick, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco who studies air pollution and smoking, said smoking and vaping lounges aren’t safe for the people who work there, as cannabis smoke has the same potential health effects as smoke from cigarettes.
Schick said research in California found levels of air pollution in dispensaries were “off the charts.”
“There is a strong risk that it’s going to increase the risk of asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes immediately, when people are exposed,” Schick said. “As in, when I say immediately, within minutes.”
Scheril Murray Powell of the cannabis consulting firm Green Sustainable Strong said places with consumption spaces haven’t experienced the alarming scenario Schick describes.
“In Amsterdam, they’ve had consumption lounges for decades and decades and they haven’t seen the issues that were asserted,” Murray Powell said.
Cannabis lawyer Jessica Gonzalez said consumption lounges are a key part of New Jersey’s legalization law, particularly important for people who live in federally subsidized housing. She said they can also provide a place inaccessible to minors for adults to use marijuana.
“Keep an open mind when it comes to consumption lounges, as consumption lounges are a matter of health, public safety and social equity,” Gonzalez said. “Given the restrictions on where adults can consume in New Jersey, consumption lounges provide adults with a safe and private area to consume.”
A handful of municipal officials addressed the CRC about the consumption lounge rules – some urging caution, others hoping for a more aggressive approach.
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren said the concentration of marijuana smoke needs to be a priority to ensure the safety of patrons, employees and municipal enforcement personnel.
“We’d like the air to be clean, for the smoke mitigation to be handled in a way that’s done rapidly,” Warren said.
Clinton Mayor Janice Kovach said the rules must take into account the quality of life for community members.
“Odor control is of particular importance as it can greatly affect the quality of life of those in the community. While it may be easier to control the odor for an indoor consumption area, outdoor areas may not be so easy to control.”
Kashawn McKinley, the director of constituent services for Atlantic City, has a different set of concerns. He is seeking special provisions for the city to capitalize on the convention business, both indoors and outdoors.
“Locations like Boardwalk Hall, the Convention Center and Bader Field should be permitted to host large cannabis conventions,” McKinley said.