Stock up on toll money, turnpike drivers. In continuation of Governor Phil Murphy's pledge to embrace legal weed, New Jersey will welcome six new medical marijuana dispensaries this year, with two pot shops each spread across the southern, central, and northern regions of the densely-packed East Coast hub.
At a press conference on Monday, Governor Murphy announced the newly-added dispensary licenses personally, calling on potential applicants to present their business plans to state regulators by the end of next month.
"We look forward to the opening of six new dispensaries so we can ensure that all qualifying patients who want access to medicinal marijuana can have it,'' Murphy said.
Since taking office in January of this year, Gov. Murphy has expanded qualifying conditions for the Garden State's medical cannabis program, welcoming some 10,000 new patients certified to purchase legal weed in only seven months. With over 500 residents signing up to access legal every week, the state's existing six dispensaries have been flooded with long lines and dwindling supply. Under Jersey's current regulations, medical marijuana businesses must be vertically integrated, with cultivation, production, and retail facilities all housed under one roof and operated by one entity.
During the last gubernatorial election and the first few months of Governor Murphy's tenure, the progressive Democrat promised to both legalize cannabis for recreational use and expand the local cannabis industry to include separate licenses for cultivation, production, distribution, and retail sales. So far, both of those goals have been tabled, with medical program growth taking center stage instead.
"As supply limitations impact patients' accessibility to medicine, then the body that's empowered to act on the patient's behalf should act," Hugh O'Beirne, president of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association, told NJ.com. "If that person is the governor, then the governor should act. We've got people suffering. We've got children suffering for crying out loud."
In Secaucus, New Jersey, the recently-opened Harmony Dispensary has plans to produce up to two tons of high-quality hydroponic pot every year, but with only five other pot shops currently operating across the state, 4,000 pounds of ganja won't be enough to satiate demand.
"There's been a very steady flow of patients since, literally, an hour after we announced the opening," Shaya Brodchandel, the chief executive of Harmony, told the New York Times this week.
But while there will certainly be logistical issues to figure out as the Garden State's MMJ patient rolodex continues to expand, a legislative proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis could turn New Jersey's existing dispensaries into immediate cash cows. Helmed by Democratic State Senator Nicholas Scutari, a pair of yet-to-be-filed bills would not only legalize recreational weed, but allow medical marijuana dispensaries to begin making adult-use sales as soon as the law is passed, skipping a more traditional regulatory process that has typically delayed sales for up to two years in other states with recreational legalization.
"It's on legal pad right now," Scutari told the Times. "We're literally going line by line and issue by issue. It's creating a whole industry from scratch."
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In the meantime, state regulators will license the new dispensaries by November 1st, allowing them to be up and running by the spring of 2019.
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