When the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission announced the start date for recreational marijuana sales in the Garden State last week, you could almost hear the collective frustrated sigh of thousands of cannabis consumers:
Why not 4/20?
So close, yet so far. New Jersey will start adult-use cannabis sales Thursday — just one day after the unofficial marijuana holiday of 4/20. Adult marijuana users will be able to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis at dispensaries, without a medical marijuana card.
With that, any hopes of lighting up in celebration on 4/20 with legal weed were stubbed out like a spent joint on the pavement on lot at a Camden Phish show. And all because of logistical concerns, a CRC spokesperson told The Inquirer.
“Selecting 4/20 for opening day would have presented unmanageable logistical challenges for patients and other buyers, surrounding communities, and for municipalities,” said Toni-Anne Blake, communications director for the CRC. “Regulators and industry representatives agreed it was not feasible.”
The CRC did not respond to requests to elaborate on the logistical challenges that prevented recreational sales from starting on 4/20, or for estimates on potential tax revenue the state may be forgoing by starting sales the following day. But part of the reasoning may have to do with concerns about supply shortages, said DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Nationwide, 4/20 brings large sales in legal markets, and so there might not have been enough product for both medical marijuana patients and recreational users. And before being approved for recreational sales, dispensaries had to provide evidence to the CRC that they could start recreational sales without disrupting access for New Jersey’s 130,000 medical marijuana patients.
“Because it is a holiday, you get the regular demand for medical and adult use, and then this ancillary demand from folks celebrating the holiday,” Ward said. “That has been the general concern about opening up in New Jersey — adequate medical supply. They don’t want to roll out adult use sales, and have medical patients not getting it, too.”
But, as Chris Goldstein, a New Jersey-based activist and regional organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, pointed out, 4/20 isn’t just a one-day celebration — especially when it falls in the middle of the week.
“You almost get two weekends of 4/20, really,” Goldstein said. “If they thought Wednesday was going to be a crush, Friday and Saturday will be more of a crush.”
However, it’s tough to put a number on the tax revenue legal weed might have brought to New Jersey on 4/20. The cannabis-industry research firm BDSA, for example, projected in a recent report that daily sales on 4/20 this year will be 50% higher than average daily sales for April in mature markets like Colorado and California. Another industry analytics firm, Headset, expects New Jersey to be the largest recreational cannabis market on the East Coast, with a predicted $740 million in sales for its first year.
But, as Ward said, New Jersey’s nascent adult use market is going live with a relatively small number of dispensaries — six in South Jersey, and 13 overall, according to the CRC. So, it’s unlikely that the state is “missing out on tens of millions of dollars.”
“The revenue is going to be here. The New Jersey market is going live before New York or Pennsylvania,” he said. “To the extent that they’re missing out on some, they’ll make it up.”
Still, for some advocates, it’s unfortunate to see a new marketplace birthed just after marijuana’s biggest holiday. That not only removes a potential day of sales but also speaks to “political discomfort” with cannabis among lawmakers, said Dustin McDonald, cofounder of the California-based cannabis policy and government relations firm Square Root Group.
“You’ve gone to great lengths to produce that marketplace — don’t you want these businesses to succeed?” McDonald said. “You’re basically saying: ‘Your busiest day of the year? We’re taking that off the calendar for you. Have a good 2022.’”