Legal adult-use marijuana sales could finally be set to launch in New Jersey after Gov. Phil Murphy said some dispensaries could open their doors for business this month.

The governor confirmed a limited number of existing medical marijuana dispensaries have now received licenses to sell to adult consumers, and he also indicated he is “open-minded” to allowing residents to grow their own cannabis plants at home at some point in the future.

Progress on implementing a legal cannabis market in New Jersey has been slow since voters chose to reform the state’s marijuana laws via a ballot initiative on Election Day 2020. It took lawmakers and Murphy several months to agree on the details of enabling legislation, which the governor eventually signed into law last year.

“If I had to predict—I’ve said this before, but I mean this literally in this case—I think we’re within weeks,” Murphy said in an interview with WGBO. “I would hope in March that you’re going to see explicit movement on the medical dispensaries, some number of them being able to sell recreational.”

In order to get an adult-use license, a medical marijuana dispensary owner must first obtain approval to sell recreational cannabis from the local authority. Many municipalities have opted out of legal sales in New Jersey, despite voter majorities in favor. The marijuana business license applicant must then prove they have enough cannabis to supply the needs of registered medical marijuana patients before getting the green light to sell to recreational consumers.

Murphy went on to say that progress on launching recreational cannabis sales in New Jersey has been slow partly because of the need to build equity into the new industry. Advocates for social equity in New Jersey’s cannabis market, however, claim that the protracted launch date means that marginalized communities who’ve been most harmed by marijuana prohibition are more likely to be left behind.

New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) Chair Dianne Houenou disagrees, arguing that if adult-use retailers had started selling cannabis too quickly, the market would have become swiftly dominated by large, multi-state entities and there would have been a limited supply for medical marijuana patients.

“We need to make sure we’re ready to open to the public, because if we don’t do that and we rush into opening the market, there’s a substantial risk that patients will lose access, there will be long lines and wait times and that could lead to an immediate supply crisis,” she said.

But when pressed on how many of the 44 adult-use licenses that have so far been issued went to black-owned businesses, the CRC were unable to say.

On WGBO radio, Murphy was also pressed by a caller on the issue of home cultivation, which is still a felony offense under New Jersey’s reformed marijuana laws.

“I’ve never been ‘heck no’ against that,” the governor said. “That’s something that I haven’t spoken to the legislative leadership about, but that’s something I’d be open minded to.”

WGBO’s host then asked Murphy if there was a good reason not to allow home grow, to which the governor said he couldn’t think of one but that he’s “sure there is.”

Murphy ended by noting that more than 362,000 marijuana-related cases have been expunged in New Jersey since July 1, 2021, when the state’s cannabis decriminalization law took effect.

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