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New Jersey’s medical marijuana dispensaries could begin selling recreational marijuana to the public shortly after voters approve a ballot question seeking to legalize it, according to a state lawmaker involved in potential legalization.
Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, said Tuesday during an interview broadcast live on NJ.com’s Facebook page that he hopes dispensaries are preparing to have more marijuana available and exceed the need of their patients to begin selling to customers over the age of 21.
“The currently operating medical cannabis dispensaries would have an opportunity to sell to the general public for people over 21, if they can certify that they enough product to satisfy their patients that they’re already treating,” Scutari said.
“We might be able to flip the switch and people might be able to get marijuana, legally, right after the vote,” he said.
That’s a big if, because there are 92,000 registered patients, and the dispensaries have long struggled to supply cannabis to the state’s registered patients. Patients have complained about long lines and drives, as well as product shortages, in the limited program. The number of patients has ballooned since Gov. Phil Murphy took office and signed legislation expanding the list of medical conditions that make a person eligible for a medical marijuana card.
But this is the first time that Scutari or anyone intimately involved with cannabis law and public policy has said that the intent is to start selling this year. Insiders and industry experts have said the market would not be ready until sometime in 2021.
“My top priorities are to get it passed, and secondly, let’s get it passed quickly,” Scutari said. “It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming, so we already have a draft that we are continually working on. Right now we are working with co-sponsors and the governor’s office. We want to be able to get this thing passed quickly.”
“Finally, I think one of the most important things is to allow people to buy legal cannabis immediately,” Scutari said. “My hope is the medical dispensaries are going to get up to speed — if they are not already — to sell the adult, 21-and-over market right away.”
But Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner of the Department of Health who oversees the medical marijuana program, said logistical concerns remain.
“If it happened tomorrow, I don’t think we have an operator that would be ready to start selling adult use,” he said during a NJ Cannabis Insider webinar Tuesday that followed Scutari’s interview. “They still have a lot of work to do.”
Brown said the department has pushed operators to expand, and in 2018 moved to allow each to open two satellite dispensaries. Only three satellites have opened their doors so far.
And while some have expanded cultivation, others have struggled to do so.
“The industry as a whole would have