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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran on a pro-cannabis legalization platform in his winning 2017 bid for the Garden State’s highest office, and while it took longer than expected to end statewide prohibition, Murphy finally signed a recreational legalization bill into law in early 2021. But while New Jersey is expected to be a massive cannabis market thanks to its heavily trafficked turnpike and central location on the east coast, at this point Jersey residents and visitors still have no place to legally buy adult-use weed, and according to Gov. Murphy, it might take a while longer.

In a new interview with the New Jersey Advocate, Gov. Murphy was not phased by the news that the state would miss its deadline to begin public cannabis sales in February 2022. With that original deadline now out of reach, Murphy stressed that any length of licensing, production, and access delays would be well worth it in the long run.

“I’d rather get it right than get it fast,” Gov. Murphy told NJ Advance Media on Sunday. “We all want it sooner than later but, let’s make sure it’s right that to me is the most important. It’s going to be an industry that’s going to be around 50, 100, 200 years from now. Let’s get it right.”

In America’s relatively recent experiment with state-specific legalization, most now-legal states have taken a similar route to New Jersey, taking a year or longer between ending prohibition and enacting recreational dispensary sales.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” Jeff Brown, the executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), told NJ Cannabis Insider last month. “Feb. 22 is not a concrete date to open. There is no firm commitment on the timing of when recreational sales will begin.”

The hold-up is being caused by a few compounding issues that Brown and his CRC colleagues say could cause months of continued waiting. For one, the CRC is struggling to work with local municipalities, many of which do not want to see grow sites, distributors, or dispensaries open in their cities or towns. And without finalized regulations, regulators say there is not enough cannabis in the system to support expected demand, with more growers needed to provide the additional product.

Governor Phil Murphy has championed legal cannabis for years

“We’re going to keep pushing to move as fast as we can” to open, Brown said. “That requires approval and industry readiness, and the readiness is uneven. It’s the priority of the CRC to get recreational sales started as soon as we can, but we have to do it in a way that’s compliant with the law. We need the industry to get there.”

And while most states in America’s legal weed landscape have taken the same slow and steady long game approach to licensing and sales. Implementation as New Jersey, one state in particular took a much faster route and has not seen any of the negative outcomes feared by so many state and municipal leaders across the country.

Nevada legalized cannabis by popular vote in November 2016, and while possession was automatically legalized on January 1st, 2017, sales were not slated to start until a year or more later. That is, until a piece of legislation fast-tracked the process, awarding licenses to existing medical cannabis companies to move portions of their product stock and open dispensary sales to adult-use buyers. Nevada’s first dispensaries opened to recreational consumers on July 1st, 2017, and by the end of the year, Silver State pot shops had sold more than $195 million worth of weed, dwarfing the first six-month sales totals from states like Washington and Colorado.

Back in New Jersey, where medical marijuana operators have been running licensed cultivation, distribution, and dispensary sites for years, many business leaders – and politicians – are frustrated that Gov. Murphy and the CRC have not followed Nevada’s fast-paced approach to implementation.

“The regulations have not been finalized, and we haven’t heard back on our application,” Patrik Jonsson, regional president of the northeast for Curaleaf, one of many medical cannabis companies in the state that have applied for licenses to expand their medical facilities, told NJ Advance Media. “Give us 48 hours, and we can pretty much do whatever the state wants, and we’ll open. We have products, the people and the facilities. There are a few minor things we need to clarify around the product. But we are very much ready for turning it on as soon as the state lets us. We just don’t know what we have to do to bring it over the finish line. That’s all on the state at this point.”

No matter what Jonsson and other existing or hopeful cannabis business owners say, New Jersey leadership is taking its time when it comes to cannabis, with the beginning of recreational dispensary licensing now slated to start on March 15th, with no date in sight for the start of adult-use sales.