Op-Ed: Pot pharmacies can bring more green to NJ

I recently went to Los Angeles to visit a family in the San Fernando Valley. California legalized adult recreational pots in 2016. There are now pharmacies in shopping malls, across from car washes and on the main streets of suburbs. I visited two – for research purposes only, mind you – to get a sneak peek of the green new world cannabis connoisseurs can expect in the Garden State.

I am a sixties kid. In the past, scoring weed meant finding a dealer, convincing them that you weren’t a narc, and listening to lies about the effectiveness of their product. Then you would hand over $ 10 and get a bag that was partially filled with what looked like oregano with lots of seeds on it.

At Sherman Oaks’ Higher Path, the pharmacy I went to with my 25-year-old son, there wasn’t a sachet in sight to make sure I wasn’t being ridiculed. And no illegal character sneaking around the entrance, though the high 90s temperatures are likely to discourage even the most determined sneak.

This is definitely a problem in New Jersey, where 400 eye-opening communities – 70% of the state’s total 565 list – have banned cannabis growers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, suppliers, and pharmacies from adult cannabis use.

For some cities, the ban is a quality of life issue. Ocean City Councilor Jody Levchuk told the Philadelphia Inquirer it was concerned about “a smoke festival” on the beaches and boardwalk.

Lacey Mayor Peter Curatolo was even more open. City dwellers “did not vote for 17 year olds to become drug users. They didn’t vote for an overdriven product, so some MS-13 gangbangers can come in here and undercut (legally sold marijuana).

A growing market sector

Judging from our first stop at Sherman Oaks, Curatolo and others concerned about pharmacies attracting lowlife and thugs don’t seem to be concerned about anything.

We were carded and called into the main sales room: carpeted floors, wooden shelves with a glittering assortment of products in brightly labeled glass containers – much more of a high-end boutique than a den of injustice.

An electronic kiosk suggested different sativa strains to suit the mood I wanted to achieve – creative, relaxed, sleepy, energetic … “Blotto” and “extinguished” were not among the choices.

Our young budtender (yes, that’s what they’re called) offered hands-on help showing us gummy bears, candy bars, cookies and other edibles with varying amounts of THC, the main and most active ingredient in marijuana. The back end of the marijuana industry places great emphasis on quality control and repeatability.

And of course we saw nuggets of compressed buds in various shades of purple, green, and brown.

Best of all, the folks at Higher Path gave my son a t-shirt on the way out.

The Marijuana Factory in Chatsworth is a different vibe, more of a hip clothing store – brightly painted cement floors and walls, music with lots of bass, and a ship’s bell tolled to commemorate each sale. No kiosk, but large windows give a view of the extension and trim rooms. This is probably more about show than anything else; the factory could only raise a tiny fraction of the pot sold.

For the record, the marijuana factory is in an industrial park. We visited at night; everything except the pharmacy was dark. Again, no wild characters walking around.

Both High Path and the Marihuana Factory take online orders and offer a delivery service. Both had security guards on duty, and both limited the number of customers in the salesroom at all times. And California law prohibits customers from shopping locally. In both cases, COVID-19 protocols were in place.

But quality of life may not be the main reason so many communities choose not to. Under New Jersey Recreational Marijuana Act, cities that choose to allow pharmacies to operate have a five-year commitment. Some communities said they were waiting for regulations from the state cannabis regulatory commission. The Commission voted on August 19 to adopt the first set of rules. The opt-out period was August 21. This did not give city officials enough time to read and process the information.

Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein put it in a nutshell: “We just don’t know what to do as a city.”

Now that the rules are in place, communities that have opted out can change their minds and sign up.

My decidedly unscientific conclusions: Pharmacies do not attract unwanted customers. Business appears to be booming, good for the troubled New Jersey small businesses and for the state’s tax coffers. And the move of marijuana to Main Street should be good for nearby businesses and for residents looking to inhale.

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