Starting on April 21, recreational marijuana sales will begin in New Jersey, more than a year after the state legalized and decriminalized the drug. And with good weather finally arriving, too, 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” last year, there’s still some things New Jersey residents and Shore-goers alike should know before lighting up.
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.
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.
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.
And, at least currently, edible cannabis products are not available on the recreational market. The forms of marijuana you’re allowed to buy include dried flower, concentrated oils, drops and syrups, and chewable forms like pills and tablets.
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 really — yet. Right now, there are seven medical marijuana stores in South Jersey that are allowed to start selling recreational weed on April 21, but it isn’t totally clear yet which ones will be ready by then. Locations expanding into recreational sales in South Jersey include shops in Bellmawr, Edgewater Park, Deptford, Bordentown Vineland, Williamstown, and Egg Harbor Township (the only Shore town on the list so far).
And each municipality has to approve recreational sales before they’re allowed. Many Shore towns have already banned marijuana businesses within their boundaries, so it still could be tough.
But, technically, there may be some loopholes. Since marijuana possession has been decriminalized, adults could 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.
Last 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.”
This article has been updated since it first published.