It's been a year-and-a-half since New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational cannabis in the Garden State.
Yet, New Jerseyans of legal age still cannot legally buy cannabis products like alcohol or tobacco. On the latest Sonstein Sessions, Q104.3 listeners asked Governor Phil Murphy to explain the hold-up, and more importantly, when it will end.
"I know folks are frustrated; we want to see this happen sooner than later," Murphy said. "I will say this. Not just in words but in action, we are deeply committed to equity. We are committed to the small-scale operator."
Pressed for a timeline for legalization, Gov. Murphy estimated that medical dispensaries could be allowed to sell retail in "a matter of weeks." Standalone retail operations may have to wait "a couple of months."
He continued, explaining that part of the argument for legalizing marijuana was in response to decades racial inequality in law enforcement; legal cannabis shouldn't be summarily turned over the big players in the industry. Black leaders in New Jersey have expressed concerns that Black entrepreneurs are being left behind by the new recreational cannabis regulations.
Murphy says the state's licensed cannabis distributors should "look like the communities [they] serve."
"If all we cared about was the big business in this industry — and by the way, we want them as well — but if we only cared about them, this would be easy," he said.
Another major concern is whether there is enough legally grown cannabis in the state to meet demand. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission reported in February that the state was about 100,000 pounds of marijuana short of meeting the demand.
There's also concern for medical cannabis users and how the state can ensure them access to the products they need when the demand increases to all New Jerseyans ages 21 and up.
As the state's growers get up to speed this spring, the industry should open up in New Jersey in earnest.
Murphy added that he's also open to letting residents grow their own pot, but it's up to the State Legislature to craft such a rule.
"I would need a law to come to my desk to change that, but color me open-minded to that," he said.