TRENTON – Legal sales of adult-use, recreational marijuana will begin on April 21 in New Jersey.

It comes a day after 4/20 — the unofficial annual weed celebration day — but also 535 days after New Jersey voters legalized recreational marijuana in a referendum.

Gov. Phil Murphy had pledged as a candidate in 2017 that he’d legalize adult-use marijuana in his first hundred days in office. In the end, the first sales will happen on his 1,557th day in office.

Seven alternative treatment centers got initial approvals Monday from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission to begin adult-use sales at 13 existing medical dispensaries. The CRC says those licenses will be issued to allow sales to start next Thursday, with each ATC deciding their own start date.

“This is an exciting time for New Jersey,” said Jeff Brown, the CRC executive director. “New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly to have access to adult-use cannabis and it is now here. I am very proud of the work the commission has done over the past year to open the market. We have been intentional and deliberate to do everything in our power to set the market on good footing to start.”

There are 23 medical dispensaries in the state currently, but not all of them will offer recreational sales, in some cases because the municipalities where they’re located haven’t approved.

The dispensaries that will have recreational sales are in Bellmawr, Bloomfield, Deptford, Edgewater Park, Egg Harbor Township, Elizabeth, Lawrence, Maplewood, Paterson, Phillipsburg, Rochelle Park, Vineland and Williamstown.

Existing medical dispensaries that will not have recreational sales, at least initially, are in Atlantic City, Bordentown, Cranbury, Eatontown, Montclair, Neptune, Paramus, Secaucus, Union and Woodbridge.

James Leventis, executive vice president of Verano, which operates the Zen Leaf dispensaries, said the company is “elated” and will start adult-use sales Thursday in Elizabeth and Lawrence. Its Neptune dispensary is still working on getting zoning approvals from the township but may expand soon, perhaps even by the end of May.

“We’ve been working towards this for, gosh, a couple of years,” Leventis said. “We’ve had our eyes set on the launch of this personal-use program for quite some time. We started operations in New Jersey in early 2020 and had a mindset toward eventually this program opening up. We’ve set our operations and our facilities in line to best accommodate this. We’re ready. We’ve been ramping up production and staffing for the last couple of months, so we are more than ready.”

Leventis said Verano dispensaries in other states saw large crowds on opening days in other states and anticipates that could happen in New Jersey, given its novelty. He said the facilities have the parking and design to handle that type of surge.

“Will there be lines? Most likely, just because there’s a lot of interest,” he said. “This is kind of a seminal event. We’re rung by New York and Pennsylvania and a number of states where recreational sales are not yet allowed, which is kind of a monumental thing in the region. So, we are expecting pretty high volume those first few days, but we’ve also staffed up and we’re ready to accommodate it.”

New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Edmund DeVeaux said the prospect for crowds depends on a dispensary's location and how actively it is promoted.

“We’re trusting that the CRC has adequately investigated these retail facilities and that the retail facilities are in fact prepared to handle whatever comes next week," DeVeaux said.

Deveaux said the CRC had an obligation to ensure medical patients remain the priority and decided its concerns have been satisfied. He said that although a lot of people think it should have happened sooner, legal sales are starting on the correct timeline.

“I don’t think it’s a long time coming, but it is something that we’ve worked on - the advocacy community as well as the Legislature and commission. This is doing it right, not doing it quickly," DeVeaux said.

“It’s a question of making sure that they have not just quality but quantity, and if they have demonstrated that to the CRC, then I think we should be OK," he said. "But look, this is progress, and it’s not to say that it won’t go without some hitch along the way. We hope that it doesn’t.”

The CRC said the companies that will have recreational sales will be assessed on whether they meet certain social equity standards, such as diversity in hiring and management, support for community programs, the number of new and local businesses to which they provide technical support and the percentage of minority-owned vendors or suppliers with which they contract.

“We remain committed to social equity,” said Dianna Houenou, the CRC chairwoman. “We promised to build this market on the pillars of social equity and safety. Ultimately, we hope to see businesses and a workforce that reflect the diversity of the state, and local communities that are positively impacted by this new and growing industry.”

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The CRC has approved 102 conditional licenses specific to the recreational marijuana business, all for cultivators and manufacturers. It continues to consider other license applications.

The state has also received at least 327 applications for marijuana retailers. They began to be accepted in March, and none have yet been approved.

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