When it comes to cannabis I’m an illicit market kinda guy. I’ve got a nice hippie lady who’s a lot cheaper than the dispensary and she delivers to my home. And if it’s one of those weeks, she’s always generous with a line of credit, something that’s unthinkable at one of New Jersey’s 23 medical cannabis dispensaries.
“I know you’re good for it,” she’ll say. “Just get me next time.”
For years I’ve critiqued NJ’s long-languishing medical cannabis program for Leafly and NJ.com. I’ve chronicled the program’s protracted “Train Wreck” phase and described “Why Black Market Weed (still) Beats NJ Dispensaries.”
But somewhere along the way, NJ’s medical cannabis program got better.
How much better?
Well, don’t go firing your legacy dealer any time soon. But things have improved enough that’s it worth giving the program another look.
Here’s a list of tips and ideas for NJ’s 120,000+ medical cannabis users to maximize your next trip to the dispensary.
You never forget your first trip to buy cannabis legally. Mine happened Dec. 17, 2012, when I made the two-hour trek to Montclair from Cherry Hill to visit the state’s first (and then only) dispensary.
“At least you don’t live in Cape May,” I joked to myself.
With 23 dispensaries now serving NJ’s 122,000+ medical cannabis cardholders, no one drives 2 hours (there and back) for legal weed anymore.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission updates their roster as new dispensaries come online. Their medical marijuana webpage, while hardly a design masterpiece, is packed with valuable info for newbies including a list of qualifying conditions and info to find a doctor to sign off on your state-issued medical cannabis ID.
Once you’ve got your ID, you’re ready to visit a dispensary.
Say it: “I’m new here.”
Bellying up to the bar to make your first medical cannabis purchase can be intimidating. For starters, stigma is still a thing, even for registered patients. Also, cannabis has its own language (kinda like wine) that can be intimidating for first-timers.
My advice: Tell your budtender (aka your weed barista) that it’s your first visit. Letting them know you’re a newbie gives them the opportunity to dial back the jargon and treat you like a first-time guest.
Indica, sativa, hybrid
You’ll become fluent in the language of cannabis soon enough.
In the meantime, the words “indica” and “sativa” might be at the top of your vocabulary list since that’s how cannabis strains are classified at most dispensaries.
Generally speaking, sativas are more energetic and indicas are more mellow. You can remember the difference because Indica = in da couch.
But mileage can, and will, vary between patients. I’ve had sleepy sativas and energetic indicas in my day. That said, it’s usually sativa by day and indica by night in Casa Lassiter.
Again, ask your budtender, who can share insights based on feedback from other customers.
Do you want to be high? How high?
I tend to go for hybrid strains with a high THC content. THC is the chemical compound that determines a strain’s potency.
If you wanna get really stoned, look for a something with THC content over 20%. For those days when you need relief but still have to function, ask for something between 5-10% THC.
Buying cannabis in New Jersey is like going to Whole Foods. You can walk out completely broke if you’re not careful. But you can also get some really good deals if you know where to look.
For budget-conscious patients, Jeff Brown, Chief of Staff of NJ’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, suggests shopping around.
“Try new dispensaries,” Brown says. “We made it easy to switch dispensaries – patients can do so from their phones, so don’t be afraid to go to a new one. Often, dispensaries that recently opened are less crowded and could have more competitively priced products in order to attract new customers.”
Join mailing lists, get deals
I took that advice and then joined the mailing list of every dispensary within striking distance of my South Jersey home.
That’s how I learned about the 10% discount for anyone traveling more than 30 miles to visit the dispensary in Atlantic City. Mailing lists can be trifling. But how else would I know when the Vineland dispensary has a coveted strain on sale for $200/ounce? That’s more than half off the price you might typically encounter anywhere in the state, so it’s definitely worth the email clutter to stay in the loop.
Also, are you a military vet? Shopping for a pediatric medical cannabis user? Are you on Medicaid? Then you get a discount on cannabis purchases in New Jersey! Depending on which dispensary, discounts range between 30% to 50%.
And that’s a lot of green.
Finally, medical tax is going away
It was scandalous when New Jersey’s Chris Christie-era regulators added sales tax to medical cannabis purchases. Forcing sick people to pay even more—6.625% more, to be exact—added insult to the burdens of a costly, over-regulated program.
Under Gov. Phil Murphy, that medical cannabis excise tax has gradually ratcheted down, to 4% and then to 2%, and soon it will flatten to zero. The sales tax on medical marijuana purchases in New Jersey will sunset for good on July 1, 2022.
When adult-use sales begin later this year, an ounce of cannabis flower will be subject to a 33% excise tax, plus 6.625% sales tax. That’s a bite—and a good reason to keep your NJ med card current, as patients will pay zero tax on their weed purchases.
Still no homegrow? Come on
Even with discounts and sales, cannabis still ain’t cheap in NJ, where home grown cannabis remains very illegal. Patients who grow their own can face up to five years in jail for a single plant.
Absent homegrow provisions, advocates are pushing for something like insurance coverage for medical cannabis purchases in NJ. There’s legislation pending in Trenton to do just that.
Since cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, insurance companies (regulated by the feds) won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Instead these expenses would be covered by state programs including the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund and PAAD (Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled.)
Rec Day One is coming
Finally, NJ voters legalized recreational cannabis on Election Day, 2020. The first licenses for adult-use sales are expected to be issued sometime in the next few months. According to Jeff Brown of the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the rollout of recreational cannabis won’t displace or de-prioritize patients who use medical cannabis.
“Recreational cannabis will become available but it will be taxed at a higher rate,” says Brown, “and patients will have priority access even when those sales start—meaning they will have access to more products.”
Priority access sounds good—but be sure to stock up on your meds prior to NJ’s adult-use opening day. Things can get a little chaotic in that first week.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on InsiderNJ, where Jay Lassiter is a regular columnist.