New Jersey’s recreational marijuana market open for business

New Jersey is now among 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, with legalized recreational marijuana markets.

Justin Dugarry makes first legal purchase of recreational marijuana at Curealeaf Bellmawr. (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Justin Dugarry makes first legal purchase of recreational marijuana at Curealeaf Bellmawr. (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Recreational marijuana sales are officially underway in New Jersey.

Some customers waited for hours Thursday morning outside the Curealeaf dispensary in Bellmawr, near the intersection of I-295 and Route 42, to purchase the legal pot

Among them was Justin Dugarry, who took his purchase out of the bag and held it up triumphantly.

He said he’s fine with paying twice the street price for legal cannabis because the tax money will be used to fund social programs.

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“I want the tax revenue to go to the state of New Jersey so teachers don’t have to buy colored pencils out of their own pockets anymore and hospitals to get the money they deserve,” Dugarry said.

Others wanted to be a part of the novelty of buying legal weed.

Randy Marsh sits in his chair with coffee at his side waiting for the line to move at Curealeaf opening. (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Randy Marsh sat in a camping chair waiting for the doors to open early Thursday. He called it a “historic day” for the state of New Jersey. Even though he hasn’t had marijuana in years, he came to the Curealeaf facility just to be a part of the excitement, which he compared to “like when a new video game console drops.”

Inside the facility, the dispensary had the look of a phone store in a suburban shopping mall, with bright lighting and glass cases containing small samples of different forms of marijuana. There were also edibles and creams with active ingredients such as tinctures and topical oil which are said to ease muscle and joint pain, and relieve headaches.

Cureleaf CEO Joseph Bayern came to the facility, which is among ones run by the company in more than 20 states, to talk to customers and reflect on the company’s rapidly expanding business.

“We’re creating a movement and we’re creating education and awareness to consumers around how cannabis can be part of everybody’s health and wellness regimen,” Bayern said. “The American consumers have already spoken pretty loudly and clearly in favor of cannabis. We’ve got to get legislation now…for people to buy cannabis in a legal way.”

Not everyone was pleased with the expansion of sales for recreational use. Even though medical patients have an express lane and are given priority under state law, some weren’t happy with how it was working on day one. Medical marijuana patient Bernard Shaw sai there were delays getting into and out of the facility.

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“I used to come and get in and out of here in 5 minutes, now you spend 5 minutes outside taking your order, then you gotta spend another couple of minutes checking your card and your driver’s license. Why fix something that isn’t broken,” Shaw said.

The other major issue was parking. The facility didn’t have enough spaces for the opening day crowd, and people were parking wherever they could and walking to the dispensary. Security and local police were on hand to help with the issue and were directing people on how to find available spaces.

It is legal for Pennsylvania residents to buy cannabis in New Jersey, but it is not legal for them to take it across the bridge into Pennsylvania, which creates a federal offense.

Pre-orders wait to be filled at Curealeaf Bellmawr. (Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

Under federal law, marijuana is still an illegal substance. Possession is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000. Carrying across state lines comes with additional penalties.

The fine in Philly for possession of 30 grams or less for personal use is $25, and using marijuana in public can earn you a $100 ticket.

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