Why is Medical Marijuana Still So Expensive in NJ? What about Homegrow?

The Gold Dome.

The race to dominate recreational pot sales leaves NJ’s medical marijuana users in the dust.

Complaining about NJ’s medical marijuana prices is something I’ve done here on these pages (and elsewhere) dating back to my first legal cannabis purchase (in NJ) back in Dec 2012. But despite my love of a good kvetch, complaining about NJ’s medical cannabis cartel is a drag.

Frankly, I’d rather have affordable medicine.

You might get lucky and find a decent strain on sale at a NJ dispensary, but mostly you’ll shell out $450+ for an ounce of mediocre weed.

I’ll shut up about it when it’s easy to find cannabis for $200/oz. And when NJ stops jailing sick people for growing their own medicine, I’ll stop kvetching once and for all.

But until then, let’s highlight the cannabis industry’s selfishness and their contradictions.

Too high

When NJ PBS reached out to NJ’s largest dispensary about their high medical cannabis prices, CuraleafNJ provided this statement:

“Our pricing in NJ, which has some of the highest real estate taxes and operational costs in the country, is Submitted to state regulators, and complies with all state and local regulations. New Jersey pricing is aligned with the local market and is similarly priced to neighboring regulated medical markets in CT, NY and MA”

It’s cute how Curaleaf cites high property taxes like we haven’t been paying them then since long before they arrived. The real reason NJ dispensaries charge so much for mediocre weed is because they can. And they’ll keep lobbying to preserve the cartel-like stranglehold that ensures a $450/oz status quo.

I mean, why wouldn’t they?

“We may have to start destroying product”

NJ’s pot dispensaries never cared about sick people who use medical marijuana, they simply used us to be first in line for recreational sales. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. In the meantime, NJ’s cannabis industry is at great pains to let you know they’re ready to dominate the recreational marketplace.

The NJ Cannabis Trade Association had this to say:

“It cannot be emphasized enough that New Jersey’s ATCs (dispensaries) have ample supply now to service adult-use consumers without harming access for medical cannabis patients, who always come first.”

First of all, don’t buy the whole ”patents come first” thing, a debate for another time. Secondly, “it can’t be emphasized enough” sounds awfully needy don’t you think?

James Leventis is an executive for Verano New Jersey.

Verano, who run two medical marijuana dispensaries in NJ, have aggressively pushed to be first in line for recreational sales. Their Elizabeth location, where medical cannabis goes for $472/oz, devoted half its retail space to recreational sales that haven’t started yet.

“I hate to say this,” Mr. Leventis recently warned,”but we may have to start destroying product (destined for the recreational market) and we may have to start potentially letting people go because part of the anticipation is you ramp up your staffing, as well” if regulators don’t green light recreational sales soon.

Verano is so committed to higher prices, they’re willing to blowtorch a warehouse full of weed to prove it.

If Verano NJ flooded the medical marketplace with all that extra weed (instead of destroying it) that might actually bring NJ’s medical cannabis prices down out of the rafters. But that probably never cross their mind.

Because that’s not how cartels think.

3-5 years in jail

In 2020, NJ voters legalized recreational cannabis by a 2-to-1 margin.

I wonder how many of those 2,737,682 “YES” voters realize that home cultivation of cannabis remains extremely illegal here in the Garden State, including for medicinal purposes. Anyone growing weed faces 3-5 years in jail for a single pot plant, putting NJ way out of line with most other states where patients can grow their own.

In an effort to preserve their stranglehold on medical marijuana cultivation, NJ dispensaries have deployed the savviest lobbyists to ensure home cultivation remains very much illegal. It’s working. And that’s why home grow legislation’s going nowhere fast in Trenton. Frankly, given his long and cozy relationship with the cannabis industry, it’s doubtful that NJ Senate President Nick Scutari will permit debate on the topic!

Facing long odds in the statehouse, homegrow advocates are urging NJ’s Attorney General to ostensibly decriminalize the home cultivation of cannabis in NJ. It’s past time for NJ’s Office of Attorney General to issue guidance to stop prosecuting people, especially patients, who grow their own medicine.

Jay Lassiter has been HIV+ nearly 30 years and he’s used cannabis the entire time, most of that time as a criminal. 

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3 responses to “Why is Medical Marijuana Still So Expensive in NJ? What about Homegrow?”

  1. Good work, Jay. This is NJ and it’s all about the money. Murphy and most of the Dems could care less about the medical-needs community, or the social justice aspect of the whole legal weed issue. As long as their friends, donors and lobbyists get theirs, they’re good. Patients, taxpayers, and other NJ citizens be damned. Keep calling them out. Put them on the spot. Embarrass them. How about ‘get in their faces’ and make them answer to the people.

  2. Jay, I agree that prices are high. However, you can’t blame dispensaries. Wholesale costs are high – dispensaries pay a high price for the products it sells. A typical dispensary markup is no more than 100%. From that markup, the dispensary pays rent, salaries, insurance, annual license fees, security fees, accounting fees, advertising fees, bank fees, utilities, legal fees, a portion of the landlord’s real estate taxes and building maintenance fees and in some cases a fee to the city the dispensary operates in and other administrative fees. In addition, the cost to build out the dispensary can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. And guess what? The dispensary cannot deduct any of those expenses for tax purposes. That means the dispensary may be paying an effective tax rate of 80% or more. With regard to cultivation centers, they also have tremendous expenses. Any idea what it costs to get one of those up and running? Millions. They too have similar expenses and tax disadvantages. These businesses have bills that need to get paid in order to bring marijuana to consumers. It’s not an easy business by any means. Nevertheless, I feel you. I hate paying $15-$20 for a gram. It sucks. It’s expensive, but don’t hate on a lot of people who are truly trying to make a difference. I know of plenty of dispensary owners who are just getting by financially. It’s not the road to riches that so many believe it to be. I’ve worked at a dispensary, so I’ve seen the reality of the business. Not to say that they may not make some money down the road if they sell for a decent price, and hopefully they will but that also offsets years of sometimes taking no salary whatsoever. Those are lean, scary years. Yeah, it’s a reality believe it or not. People are gambling pretty heavily when they decide to enter the cannabis business. Some do it because they really want to make a positive change and others hope to cash out. Some will make positive change, some may make money and others won’t. If they are lucky enough to make money, I’d say they deserve it because they took enormous risk and paid a heavy price. Not too long ago, everyone was supportive of the industry. Now that cannabis is available, a lot of folks bash the industry because of the prices. It’s not greed that’s causing high prices, it’s the reality that the cost of operating a dispensary or grow center is really friggin’ high and the taxes that are levied are enormous. Perhaps one day this will change, but right now all we can do is deal with it or consider other options. Moving to another state is one of them, I suppose. Perhaps as the market expands, prices will come down as a result of increased efficiency, lower costs for suppliers, more buyers, etc. But please consider all of the components involved in operating these businesses before bashing the industry.

  3. I just moved here from CO with a legitimate reason for a medical card when I fell 30 feet in construction have pre-arthritis. I crapped my pants when I found out it’s damn near $200 to get your card here (50 in CO, 30 if you get a coupon for a renewal) AND 80 an 8th? I paid $20 an ounce before I left my membership! No wonder why everyone moved to CO.

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