NJ, Finally! Guidelines emerge for cannabis consumption lounges

State cannabis regulators have framed draft regulations for businesses that will serve as venues for the controlled consumption of marijuana,

On-site consumption lounges were envisioned in the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act approved in 2021, the same legislation that allows the possession of marijuana and the retail sale of cannabis products at licensed shops..

But only 10 non-medical marijuana dispensaries are now operating in the state.

The slow rollout of the shops has created headaches for some growers who have had to sit on hundreds of pounds of marijuana cultivated in 2022,

Members of the state Cannabis Control Board, meeting at the State University at Morrisville, adopted a variety of draft general regulations Thursday. Following a public comment period, they are expected to set the stage for the development of more specific rules for consumption lounges later this year.

Regulators say allowing cannabis users to smoke marijuana in controlled settings adjacent to dispensaries will help curb public smoking on sidewalks and parks.

Axel Bernabe, chief of staff to the Office of Cannabis Management, told members of the state Cannabis Board: “We’ve heard a lot of very creative ideas from folks that want to do on-site consumption. So we’re taking it very seriously. We’re going to have stakeholder engagement on that. But we really want it to start with what the law allows us to do, which is a sort of dispensary-based, limited consumption space.”

Bernabe said those with micro-business or dispensary licenses will be able to open consumption sites “in a more limited form.”

Joseph Schafer, a Buffalo lawyer who represents clients involved in the cannabis industry or are seeking to enter the New York market, said the state legislation enacted two years ago paved the way for the licensing of consumption lounges, though consumption sites were not addressed in a round of regulations released by the state last November.

The new draft regulations, Schafer told CNHI, “will enhance access for cannabis consumers” and begin to address the growing concerns about people puffing on joints in public spaces by providing them with more convenient indoor options that are expected to be adjacent to the dispensaries.

The pot lounges, under the state regulations, would only be able to open in municipalities that have opted into having them within their borders.

Schafer said he expects some dispensary operators will be eager to be approved for the pot lounges.

“A lot of the folks we spoke to early on were really fired up about on-site consumption,” Schafer recalled.

According to state regulators, “the revised regulations create pathways to allow consumption to occur at the licensed premises of retail dispensaries, in addition to on-site consumption licenses. The revised draft regulations also include the ability for local governments to identify cannabis consumption areas within their jurisdictions by exempting certain areas from the Clean Indoor Air Act.”

The state’s initial focus in opening dispensaries has been to put individuals who were negatively impacted by cannabis prohibition by being arrested at the front of the line ahead of other entrepreneurs seeking to enter the industry. Fifty additional conditional licenses were approved by regulators.

But only 10 shops have opened so far, though many more illegal stores have been attempting to take advantage of the fact that marijuana possession is now legal. A total of 215 conditional licenses have now been issued by the state.



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