New Jersey’s Recreational Cannabis Buzzkill

For a list of  pot shops selling recreational weed in NJ starting 4/21, scroll down.

Recreational pot sales begin this week in New Jersey and I really oughta be more excited about it. After all, I’ve spent my adult life working to reform NJ’s backwards marijuana laws and here we are, on the precipice of what everyone else is calling a huge milestone.

Only we didn’t actually legalize weed in the Garden State, rather we legalized *dispensary* weed from a very limited number of politically-connected pot shops, many helmed by rich out-of-state owners who’ll be laughing to the bank while the rest of us pay up to $600 for an ounce of mediocre weed. That’s roughly roughly $75 for an eighth.

Meanwhile, growing your own is still very illegal in New Jersey where a single pot plant could mean 5 years in jail.

So forgive me if I’m not feeling like a victory lap right.

Here’s why NJ’s version of marijuana legalization is a total buzzkill.

There’s no Place for You in this industry

They’ll have you as a customer. And they might even hire you as the help and pay (peanuts)  with no job security. But unless you’re 1) loaded 2) politically well-connected and 3) have a Rolodex filled with lobbyists, municipal variance attorneys, and maybe a Russian oligarch or two, there’s not much room for you in NJ’s gazillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Costs

If you’re paying over $10/gram ($35/eighth, $280/oz) for dispensary weed in New Jersey, it’s a shakedown. Unfortunately, you rarely find pot for $10/gram at New Jersey dispensaries which means you’re always paying too much. Plus tax.

NJ’s experiment with medical cannabis has been a bumpy ride for anyone who’s not rich which makes talk of equity and compassion and social justice ring very hollow.  Medical cannabis in NJ is the most expensive you’ll find anywhere in America and if past is prologue, you might expect to pay roughly $20 per gram ($70/eighth, $560/oz) when recreational sales begin on 4/21.

In Colorado, an ounce runs about $150 and the really good stuff might set you back $175, a fraction of the price for something quite mediocre in NJ.

My black market legacy dealer charges $200/oz, including delivery, a tender mercy on busy days and sadly still not an option with your legal dispensary weed in New Jersey.

My advise to recreational and medical marijuana consumers in New Jersey: go ahead and make one legal purchase and save the packaging. Use those jars and baggies to store your black market stash.

Home grow (you better not) 

There are no provisions in NJ for the home cultivation of cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes. That makes NJ an outlier nationally and a place where one lousy pot plant means serious jail time.

The NJ  legislature could, of course, vote to legalize home cultivation of cannabis. Even if they’re not ready to let everyone do it, surely it’s time to permit a few plants for medical cannabis cardholders. That would break Big Weed’s cartel-like hold on NJ’s cannabis industry while empowering anyone with a green thumb. But thanks to aggressive lobbying by dispensary owners, there’s not much appetite in the State House to legalize home cultivation right now, not even for sick people.

But there’s a workaround that could get us halfway there.

NJ’s Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin could ostensibly decriminalize home cultivation with a memorandum of guidance to New Jersey’s 21 county prosecutors instructing them to lay off anyone who runs afoul of NJ’s overly punitive anti-home grow laws.

That’s a half measure, a far cry from our legislature carrying out the will of the people. But it’s a heckuva lot better than locking people up for weed.

We already know Platkin likes memos, he sent one last week to law enforcement officials that it’s ok for off-duty cops to smoke weed. Yes you read that correctly, let’s incarcerate sick people who grow their own while carving out space for off-duty cops to partake so long as their weed comes from a dispensary.

Just reading that last sentence makes my head explode.

The Russian Connection/Русская связь

Since Russia’s shocking and remorseless invasion of Ukraine, the world is rapidly shrinking for Russian oligarchs, especially those with ties to Vladimir Putin. But apparently there’s room in New Jersey’s cannabis industry for rich Russians with murky post-Soviet backstories.

Curaleaf is the largest pot company in NJ and in the world. Curaleaf’s executive Chairman and largest owner is a billionaire named Boris Jordan, a Russian-American with longstanding ties to Putin through an equity firm called Sputnik Group and Renaissance Insurance, two outfits that closely align with Kremlin business objectives.

Barrons:

Curaleaf’s board chairman Boris Jordan played central roles in Russia’s messy return to capitalism in the 1990s. He helped arrange its first privatization, launched its first investment bank, and dove into the scrum to snatch up Russian assets.

Mr. Jordan’s 2007 love note to Putin in the Washington Post is a cringy, obsequious train wreck given what we now know. More recently, it was conspicuous when Boris Jordan played the “both sides” card after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Russian billionaire, Andrei Bloch (or Blokh) got rich when Russia privatized its oil resources. He now owns 28% of Curaleaf. Mr. Bloch’s business partner is Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a man so close to Putin his yacht just got snatched. Bloch’s stake in Curaleaf, New Jersey’s largest cannabis company, landed him back on Forbes’ list of richest Russians.

 

Life’s not fair 

The AIDS crisis set the table for marijuana reform in America.

As I commemorate 30 years living with HIV, I must remind the world that the most consequential activism to legalize pot was done by those with AIDS (and their caretakers) whose advocacy changed enough hearts and laws that within a generation, America fully embraced marijuana reform.

New Jersey cannabis industry bigwigs owe a debt of gratitude to the dead, unsung queers who laid the groundwork for the multibillion dollar cannabis industry that’s enriching lots of people who did none of the work to get us here.

Crazy how that works ain’t it?

Finally, here’s a list of NJ pot shops, alphabetically by county, selling recreational cannabis as of today, 4/25:

 

Atlantic County

The Botanist 100 Century Dr, Egg Harbor Township. Map. Phone: (609) 277-7547

 

Bergen Co

Ascend 174 NJ-17, Rochelle Park. Map. Phone: (973) 370-3150

 

Burlington Co

Curaleaf 4237 South US-130, Edgewater Park. Map. 609-232-7690 (Call First!!)

 

Camden Co

Curaleaf 640 Creek Rd, Bellmawr. Map. 856-933-8700

 

Cumberland Co

Cannabist (aka Columbia Care) 1062 N Delsea Dr, Vineland. Map. 856-213-9445

 

Essex Co

RISE 26-48 Bloomfield Ave, Bloomfield. Map. 973-327-3442

Apothecarium (aka TerrAscend) 1865 Springfield Ave, Maplewood. Map. 973-996-1420

 

Gloucester Co

Cannabist (aka Columbia Care) 1692 Clements Bridge Rd, Deptford. Map. (856) 322-2829

The Botanist 2090 N Black Horse Pike, Williamstown. Map. 856-478-3530

 

Mercer Co

Zen Leaf  3256 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Township. Map. 908-676-5936

 

Passaic Co

RISE 196 3rd Ave #3c, Paterson. Map. 973-440-2717

 

Union Co

Zen Leaf 117 Spring St, Elizabeth. Map. 908-676-5936

 

Warren Co

Apothecarium (aka TerrAscend) 55 S Main St, Phillipsburg. Map. 908-777-7420

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