The illicit cannabis marketplace in New Jersey is untested, unregulated, unrestrained and thriving. And as cannabis-themed conventions and events become more frequent, we need to be vigilant. Illicit sellers have been popping up around the state, selling a broad array of unregulated cannabis-infused products dosed at astronomical levels ranging from 500 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabis compound that gets you high. In contrast, New Jersey’s adult-use law will limit licensed cannabis establishments to selling products containing no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose or 100 milligrams of THC per product.
Cannabis legalization is not a binary, but a spectrum. Cannabis isn’t just legal or illegal. It is regulated in a nuanced manner that takes into account the health, safety, and welfare concerns of the community where it’s authorized for sale. This is the exact reason that New Jersey’s form of legalization differs from California, Illinois, Colorado or New York. Each of these states and communities have their own unique issues and concerns, and state laws are implemented to ensure not only product availability, but also that those products adhere to local norms.
The statutory text of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (“CREAMMA”) identifies the norms of our community and corresponding law was concerned with:
- Regulating cannabis similar to the regulation of alcohol for adults.
- Preventing the sale or distribution of cannabis to persons under 21 years of age.
- Elimination of the problems of unregulated manufacturing, distribution and use of illegal marijuana within New Jersey.
- Diverting funds from marijuana sales going to illegal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.
- Freeing up resources to allow our criminal justice system to focus on serious criminal activities and public safety issues.
- Enhancing public health and minimizing harm to New Jersey communities and families.
When consumers enter a licensed New Jersey cannabis dispensary, they will have access to an array of products that have been vetted and safeguarded at every point in the supply chain. “Seed-to-sale” tracking ensures all products are free of chemicals and other harmful pesticides and that they were tested for contaminants and heavy metals. It also means that all ingredients, from THC to CBD (cannabidiol) and everything in between are clearly depicted and labeled.
In contrast, illicit operators, like many of those popping up in New Jersey statewide, sell whatever they want, call it whatever they like, and sell it to whomever they choose. They do not check identification, are indifferent to health and safety rules and conduct business without concern as to the consequences of their actions. Remember the vaping scare of 2019, which not only hospitalized, but resulted in the deaths of scores of individuals consuming products tainted by unregulated cutting agents? The illicit market has no Yelp reviews and recall procedures, no regulatory body to shut down unscrupulous business owners who fail to protect the interests of their consumers and communities at large.
But what is the solution? Consumer education? Sure, and there are responsible organizations, including the U.S. Cannabis Council, that are actively educating the consuming public on a host of different cannabis-related issues. Consumer protection? Yes, and the New Jersey attorney general’s office, Division of Consumer Affairs has started down that path.
CREAMMA has set a range of possibilities for the start-date for lawful/regulated adult-use sales, which can occur anywhere between August 21, 2021 (earliest possible date) and February 22, 2022 (latest possible date). For the sake of consumers, and for the health, safety, and welfare of the marketplace, the hope is that regulated adult-use sales are sooner, rather than later, as the only comprehensive way to counter the illicit marketplace is to provide consumers the option to choose the regulated one.
In the interim, access to dangerous, unregulated, illicit cannabis remains open for business.