Earlier this year, New Jersey legalized and decriminalized marijuana, ending decades of prohibition. And now, with summer in full swing, you may be wondering: Can I finally smoke a joint down the Shore legally?

Well, not so fast. While Gov. Phil Murphy said that the state’s “broken and indefensible marijuana laws are no more” back in February, there’s still a ways to go before New Jersey residents and Shore-goers alike can light up completely carefree.

Using marijuana or possessing up to six ounces of it (or up to 17 grams of hashish) won’t land you in any hot water, legally, provided you’re over 21. More than that amount, it’s considered a fourth-degree crime, which can carry fines and possible jail time.

You can’t buy legal recreational marijuana right now; the retail system hasn’t been set up yet.

» READ MORE: What is and isn’t allowed under New Jersey’s marijuana laws

So, when it comes to your trip down the Shore this summer, what can you do? Can you smoke it on the beach or boardwalk? And what if you’re a medical marijuana patient?

Here is what you need to know.

Can I smoke weed on the beach or boardwalk?

In a word, no. New Jersey’s marijuana laws don’t allow public use of marijuana — whether you’re smoking or vaporizing it.

And it’s not just marijuana: Many of the same rules — both state and local — prevent you from smoking cigarettes in public places, too, says Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

While consequences can vary, the “penalty for a first offense is generally a fine,” said New Jersey Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Peter Aseltine.

The Smoke-Free Air Act, which Gov. Murphy updated in 2018 to include public beaches and parks, includes a $250 fine for a first offense, $500 for a second, and $1,000 for third and subsequent violations.

Police could also confiscate your marijuana, says Chris Goldstein, an activist and regional organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. However, DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, says they’re not supposed to, because the law doesn’t “give [police] the ability to search or seize your cannabis.”

The state’s new marijuana laws also let local municipalities pass their own marijuana ordinances. So, many Shore towns have banned the public use of marijuana at the beach or boardwalk, specifically — or smoking and vaping in general — including Cape May, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Wildwood Crest, and Seaside Heights.

And towns have until late August to pass rules on marijuana use in businesses, so more restrictions may come this summer.

Is it legal to use marijuana edibles at the Shore?

There is no ban on consuming cannabis in New Jersey, Ward says: The focus is more on smoking and vaping in public.

But some towns have restricted the public consumption of any marijuana products — such as Wildwood Crest and Margate — which would include edibles. So, the answer depends on where you’re staying.

Can I smoke marijuana in my car?

Nope. Doing so violates open container laws, said Aseltine.

Jersey’s open container laws include a $200 fine for a first offense, followed by a $250 fine for a second or subsequent violation, or you can be ordered to perform community service.

Also, if you’re in the driver’s seat and the vehicle is on, you could be charged with a DUI, Ward says, which carries more severe penalties.

“If it’s a beach town, don’t think you can go out to your car and light up a joint while you’ve got the AC running, either,” Ward says. “You can be cited for operating under the influence.”

Where can I legally use marijuana down the Shore?

The only place you can use marijuana at the Shore without risk is on private property: a friend’s Shore house, or your rental or hotel room. But you still need permission.

“If it’s private property, then it is up to whoever owns or controls the place,” Ward says.

Hotels and motels, for example, can allow smoking or vaping marijuana in up to 20% of their rooms at the owner’s discretion. Owners of Shore house rentals, like those you might find on Airbnb, can also decide whether or not to allow smoking. Ask first, Ward says.

New Jersey marijuana laws also allow for designated “Cannabis Consumption Areas” (also known as “on-site consumption areas”) attached to places that sell legal cannabis once those stores have been set up.

Can I buy legal weed at the Shore?

Not yet. The state’s recreational market hasn’t been set up yet, and it will likely be months before that changes. And even then: Many Shore towns have already banned marijuana businesses within their boundaries, so it still could be tough next summer.

“Will they allow something safer to be alongside alcohol?” Goldstein says. “Among people in New Jersey, and the people who visit, marijuana is already part of the fabric of going there.”

There are some loopholes. Since marijuana possession has been decriminalized, adults can technically “gift” it to other adults up to a certain amount, says Ward. Some ad hoc businesses have seized on that by selling snacks or other products alongside a “free” small amount of marijuana.

In June, the state AG Office sent warning letters to companies that allegedly did so.

What about if I’m a medical marijuana patient?

If you’re a medical marijuana patient in New Jersey, you still have to follow all the rules above when it comes to using it.

Out-of-state medical marijuana patients are out of luck. Technically, the state’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act allows visiting patients to buy medical marijuana from state dispensaries (a practice known as “reciprocation”), but only if they have a recommendation for a New Jersey-based doctor. And, as the N.J. Department of Health says, that provision is “not effective as of yet.”

And you’re not allowed to bring marijuana into New Jersey from out of state. Dustin McDonald, interim policy director for Americans for Safe Access, says that violates federal interstate drug possession laws, which can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of $1,000 for first-time offenders. Medical marijuana patients, Goldstein adds, are particularly at risk, as police could conduct a DUI investigation once they see your medical marijuana card.

“Even if you’re a registered patient, they could do DUI tests,” he says. “You will have enough THC in your system [to be charged].”

For patients who need to treat their condition with marijuana coming in from out of state, that creates something of a catch-22, McDonald says. Do you break federal law and put yourself at risk by bringing cannabis with you, or buy illegally where there are no quality control requirements? It’s not an easy answer right now — but at least in New Jersey, the latter likely won’t result in charges against you.

“You’re choosing the lowest punishment,” he says. “And hopefully, it is monetary and doesn’t leave something on your record.”

Expert sources:
  • DeVaughn Ward, JD, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project.

  • Chris Goldstein, activist and regional organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

  • Dustin McDonald, interim policy director for Americans for Safe Access.

  • Peter Aseltine, spokesperson for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.

» READ MORE: Live your best life in Philly: Read our most useful stories here