The first sales of recreational, adult-use cannabis in New Jersey will start next Thursday, marking the culmination of a yearslong effort to legalize marijuana and to curtail the racially unbalanced penalties for possessing the drug.
At least a half-dozen medical-marijuana dispensaries are planning to open their doors to all adults on April 21 after winning final approval this week from New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
“This is a historic step,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy wrote Thursday on Twitter as he announced the official start date.
Enthusiasm within the industry was palpable.
Dispensaries in Bloomfield and Paterson, which are both about 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan, were making plans to entertain customers waiting in line with a D.J., doughnut truck and a steel drum band.
“The end of prohibition is coming to New Jersey,” said Ben Kovler, chief executive of Green Thumb Industries, which operates both dispensaries. “We’re prepared for a tidal wave of demand.”
He estimated that New Jersey, the second state on the East Coast to begin adult-use sales, could eventually become a $3 billion industry.
“The war on drugs was a failure for people of color,” he said. “This is going to create a lot of wealth, for a lot of people.”
While eager for the added revenue, political leaders said they were bracing for the potential for extra crowds and car traffic.
In Maplewood, where a medical-marijuana dispensary that operates on a main street was preparing to open to all adults, the mayor, Dean Dafis, said he held a meeting Thursday afternoon to finalize a crowd-control strategy.
Maplewood’s township council is expected to consider a resolution early next week giving permission for the dispensary, the Apothecarium, to open for adult-use sales at 10 a.m. next Thursday.
“We’re thrilled,” Mr. Dafis, a Democrat, said. “This is the right thing. Legalization and decriminalization is long overdue.”
Towns that permit cannabis businesses to operate may charge an extra 2 percent tax in addition to state taxes and surcharges.
“The revenue is a good thing for the city of Elizabeth,” said J. Christian Bollwage, the mayor of Elizabeth, the state’s fourth-largest city with a dispensary on Route 9, about three miles from Newark Liberty International Airport.
“We’re going to be surrounded by it, so why not get the revenue?”
New Jersey voters approved a referendum legalizing marijuana in November 2020, but it was not until this week that the commission established a pathway for the first legal sales of adult-use, recreational cannabis. On Monday, seven companies and 13 medical-marijuana dispensaries they operate got the go-ahead to sell their products to all adults.
Not all are expected to be ready to open by next Thursday; state officials said a full list of the stores that will open April 21 would be posted on the commission’s website as soon as dispensaries confirmed their plans.
Each cannabis company had to demonstrate it had enough of a supply for both medical and recreational customers as well as plans in place to ensure that patients were not edged out by the flood of customers expected in the early days of legal sales in the densely populated region.
Ken Wolski, a nurse and the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, said he was satisfied that New Jersey had prioritized the state’s 170,000 registered medical-marijuana patients.
“I’m happy that sales are starting now,” Mr. Wolski said. “The goal of our organization is to get this essential medicine to the most people.”
Still, one of the biggest cannabis companies in the state, Curaleaf, suggested that medical-marijuana clients might want to avoid crowds by stocking up on marijuana this week. “The Garden State is about to get greener, so if you’re a medical patient, make sure you shop now to avoid the lines — and get the medicine you need,” an advertisement read.
New Jersey’s initial legal sales will occur only at medical-marijuana dispensaries, which are run mainly by large multistate and international cannabis corporations.
But Dianna Houenou, chairwoman of the commission, reiterated her commitment to creating an industry that helps to alleviate the harm caused by the war on drugs, particularly in communities of color.
“Ultimately, we hope to see businesses and a work force that reflect the diversity of the state,” Ms. Houenou said in a statement.
New Jersey grants priority consideration to businesses operated by people with marijuana convictions as well as companies run by minorities, women and disabled veterans.
As competition increases, officials expect the price of marijuana — which in New Jersey is now roughly $340 an ounce, according to one industry tracker — to decrease.
The state has received more than 320 applications from start-up businesses hoping to open recreational cannabis retail shops throughout New Jersey. But decisions about those applications are not expected for at least another month, and it is likely to be a year or more before the stores would be ready to open.
The commission has also granted conditional approval to 102 companies that applied to either grow or manufacture cannabis. These companies must now find a location to operate — and permission from the host town — before their conditional permits can be considered valid.
Only people 21 and older will be permitted to purchase cannabis.
But Nick DeMauro, a former police detective in Bergen County, N.J., said that as legal sales start, it was also important to bolster programs that educate students on the risks of underage cannabis use.
“It’s not going to go away,” said Mr. DeMauro, chief executive of Law Enforcement Against Drugs & Violence. “We have to intensify our efforts to make sure kids make good decisions.”
Before New Jersey legalized marijuana, Black residents were more than three times as likely as white residents to be charged with possessing the drug, despite similar rates of usage, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
Amol Sinha, executive director of the A.C.L.U. in New Jersey, applauded the news of an official start date — an achievement a decade in the making.
“The status quo,” he said, “is no longer criminalization — but an equitable industry.”