N.J. cannabis panel gives initial green light to consumption lounges

By: - December 2, 2022 4:52 pm

Consumption-area workers would be barred from overselling to consumers and they would have to ensure people are using cannabis safely on their premises. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Cannabis consumption lounges could be coming to New Jersey after the state’s cannabis agency approved proposed rules at its monthly meeting Friday.

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission’s proposed rules would allow any cannabis retailer to have indoor or outdoor enclosed consumption lounges. The same age requirement as purchasing cannabis — 21 and up with a photo ID — would apply.

Consumption-area workers would be barred from overselling to consumers, and they would have to ensure people are using cannabis safely on their premises. No alcohol or tobacco would be permitted, and similar to breweries and wineries, no food could be sold on-site, but outdoor snacks and food would be welcome.

If consumption lounges are given final approval, New Jersey will join six other states that allow on-site consumption. New York’s law also allows for consumption lounges, but none currently exist or are approved.

Nearly half the country’s states allow adults over the age of 21 to buy and consume recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in 38 states.

“I truly believe that this rule proposal, like everything else we’ve tried to do, adequately balances both equity and safety and will open up new opportunities for businesses and consumers,” said Jeff Brown, the cannabis commission’s executive director.

The measure passed with unanimous support.

In New Jersey — which has 21 dispensaries selling legal weed and hundreds on the way — people typically can’t walk around consuming cannabis under the law. Recreational users can consume it only on private property.

While the legalization law banned most penalties for using and possessing marijuana, it still banned smoking, vaping, and aerosolized cannabis consumption in public places, much like the state’s Smoke Free Air Act bans cigarette smoking in most indoor areas and on beaches. Landlords can also ban smoking on their property.

Commissioner Maria Del Cid-Kosso called consumption lounges a “safe space for consumers and patients.”

“It’s definitely another stride for the commission, so I’m really excited that we were able to put this together in a timely manner,” she said.

The commission, which will hold a 60-day public comment period for the proposed rules, would approve any consumption areas, as would the municipalities where they would be located.

State law allows municipalities to pass local ordinances banning the public consumption of cannabis. Wildwood Crest banned all smoking on beaches and in public places in 2021.

Several consumption lounges are aiming to open in Jersey City, including one that was already approved by the city planning board and is set to open in the city’s McGinley Square neighborhood.

Application fees would be $1,000 for all businesses, but microbusinesses would see a $1,000 licensing fee while standard licensing for other businesses would cost $5,000, Brown said.

The commission also awarded 113 conditional licenses and eight annual licenses for cannabis retailers and growers. And it announced it would host two more rounds of public comments on how to use social equity fees, cannabis tax revenue set aside largely to invest in high-poverty areas ravaged by the war on drugs. The social equity fee will go from $1.10 per ounce of cannabis to $1.52 per ounce of cannabis in January.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.