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NJ legal weed is flying off the shelves — but there's a catch.

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TRENTON - It wasn't that long ago that a medical marijuana card was the only way to purchase legal weed in New Jersey. But nearly two years after dispensaries opened up for recreational marijuana sales, medicinal cannabis has become an afterthought to consumers.

More than $206 million was spent on cannabis in New Jersey in the third quarter of 2023, with almost $177 million going towards recreational purchases, according to statistics released by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Thursday.

Medical marijuana, which until April 2022 was the only kind of legal cannabis available in New Jersey, has become a smaller and smaller part of the market since then. In the third quarter, medical marijuana patients spent just about $29 million — less than half of the amount spent in the third quarter last year.

"We're seeing the patient rolls come down slightly over time and, additionally, the sales lessening as well," Cannabis Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown said at the commission's Dec. 7 meeting.

Increasing adult use cannabis sales at the expense of medical marijuana sales aren't surprising. The adult use market has grown by about 10% each quarter this year, while the number of medical marijuana patients has plummeted to less than 94,000, down from an all-time high of more than 128,000 in April 2022.

New Jersey dispensaries are required to offer extra benefits to medical marijuana patients, such as patient-only hours and parking, designated checkout lanes and even separate menus and product inventory.

But the financial benefits are minimal. Medicinal cannabis purchases are tax-free but New Jersey has among the lowest cannabis taxes in the country, with a 6.625% sales tax and a $1.52 per ounce Social Equity Excise Fee.

On Zen Leaf Neptune's medical menu, an eighth-ounce of Indian Landrace cannabis cost $60 as of Dec. 7. On the recreational menu, the same product cost $65.18 after taxes.

In other states, recreational marijuana customers can pay excise taxes of over 20% — so tax-free shopping presents a much greater benefit to patients with medical marijuana cards.

Amidst that decline in patient rolls and medical marijuana sales, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission lowered registration and renewal to just $10 for every two years, and free digital identification cards for patients. Registration and renewal fees had previously been $50 for most patients, or $20 for seniors and other qualifications.

“Many patients face barriers to accessing treatment due to costs, like paying out of pocket for doctor’s visits and the cost of cannabis," Cannabis Regulatory Commission Executive Director Jeff Brown said in a statement. "NJ-CRC is doing everything in our power to eliminate as many barriers as possible to ensure those who can benefit from cannabis treatment remain in the program.” 


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