Getting the Most From NJ’s Medical Cannabis Program

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When it comes to cannabis I’m a black market kinda guy. I’ve got a nice hippy lady who’s a lot cheaper than the dispensary and she delivers to my home. And if it’s one of those weeks, she’s always generous with a line of credit, something that’s unthinkable at one of NJ’s 23 medical cannabis dispensaries.

“I know you’re good for it,” she’ll say. “Just get me next time.”

For years we’ve critiqued NJ’s long-languishing medical cannabis program on these pages. We’ve chronicled the program’s protracted “Train Wreck” phase and described “Why Black Market Weed (still) Beats NJ Dispensaries.”

But somewhere along the way, NJ’s medical cannabis program got better.

How much better?

Well, don’t go firing you legacy dealer any time soon. But things have improved enough that’s it worth giving the program another look.

Here’s a list of tips and ideas for NJ’s 120,000+ medical cannabis users to maximize your next trip to the dispensary.

More Locations

You never forget your first trip to buy cannabis legally. Mine happened December 17, 2012 when I made the 2 hour trek to Montclair from Cherry Hill to visit NJ’s first (and then only) dispensary.

“At least you don’t live in Cape May,” I joked to myself.

With 23 dispensaries serving NJ’s 122,000+ medical cannabis cardholders, no one drives 2 hours (there and back) for legal pot anymore.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission updates their roster as new dispensaries come online. Their medical marijuana webpage, while hardly a design masterpiece, is packed with valuable info for newbies including a list of qualifying conditions and info to find a doctor to sign off on your state-issued medical cannabis ID.

Once you’ve got your ID, you’re ready to visit a dispensary.

“I’m new here”

Bellying up to the bar to make your first medical cannabis purchase can be intimidating. There’s still stigma for starters. Also, cannabis has its own language (kinda like wine) that can be off-putting or even intimidating for first timers.

My advice: tell your budtender (aka your pot barista) that it’s your first visit. Letting them know you’re a newbie gives them the opportunity to dial back the jargon and treat you like a first-time guest.

Indica Sativa or Hybrid?

You’ll become fluent in the language of pot soon enough.

In the meantime, the words “Indica” and “Sativa” might be at the top of your vocabulary list since that’s how cannabis strains are classified at most dispensaries.

Generally speaking, Sativas are more energetic and Indicas are more mellow. You can remember the difference because Indica = in da couch.

But mileage can (and will) vary between patients. I’ve had sleepy Sativas and energetic Indicas in my day. That said, it’s usually Sativa by day and Indica by night in Casa Lassiter.

Again, ask your bud tender who can share insights based on feedback from other customers.

How high?

I tend to go for hybrid strains with a high THC content. THC is the chemical compound that determines a strain’s potency.

If you wanna get really stoned, look for a something over 20%. For those days you need relief but still have to function, ask for something between 5-10%.

Shop around

Buying cannabis in NJ is like going to Whole Foods. You can walk out completely broke if you’re not careful. But you can also get some really good deals if you know where to look.

For anyone budget conscious (who isn’t?), Jeff Brown, Chief of Staff of NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, suggests shopping around.

“Try new dispensaries,” Mr. Brown told InsiderNJ. “We made it easy to switch dispensaries – patients can do so from their phones, so don’t be afraid to go to a new one. Often, dispensaries that recently opened are less crowded and could have more competitively priced products in order to attract new customers.”

I took that advice and then joined the mailing list of every dispensary within striking distance of my South Jersey home.

That’s how I learned about the 10% discount for anyone traveling more than 30 miles to visit the dispensary in Atlantic City. Mailing lists can be trifling. But how else would I know when the Vineland dispensary has a coveted strain on sale for $200/ounce? That’s more than 1/2 off the price you might typically encounter anywhere in the state so it’s definitely worth the email clutter to stay in the loop.

Also, are you a military vet? Shopping for a pediatric medical cannabis user? Are you on Medicaid? Then you get a discount on cannabis purchases in NJ! Depending on which dispensary, discounts range between 30-50%.

And that’s a lot of green.

Tax going down 

It was scandalous when NJ’s Chris Christie-era regulators added sales tax to medical cannabis purchases. Forcing sick people to pay even more, 6.625% more to be exact, added insult to the burdens of a costly, over-regulated program.

Under Governor Phil Murphy, the tax has inched down to 2%.

The sales tax on medical marijuana purchases in NJ will sunset for good on July 1, 2022.

On the horizon

Even with discounts and sales, cannabis still ain’t cheap in NJ where home-grown cannabis is very illegal. Patients who grown their own can face 5 years in jail for a single plant.

Absent home grow provisions, advocates are pushing for something like insurance coverage for medical cannabis purchases in NJ. There’s legislation pending in Trenton to do just that.

Since cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, insurance companies (regulated by the feds) won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. Instead these expenses would be covered by state programs including the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund and PAAD (Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled.)

Finally, NJ voters legalized recreational cannabis on Election Day, 2020. According to Mr. Brown of the NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the rollout of recreational cannabis won’t displace or de-prioritize patients who use medical cannabis.

“Recreational cannabis will become available but it will be taxed at a higher rate, and patients will have priority access even when those sales do start meaning they will have access to more products,” Mr. Brown told InsiderNJ.

Jay Lassiter has been HIV+ for nearly 30 years and he’s used cannabis the entire time, most of that time as a criminal. Need help with medical cannabis in NJ? Find him on Twitter @Jay_Lass.

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