New Jersey’s Cannabis Lounges: What To Expect

Consumption Lounge, men smoking and relaxing

It’s official: Cannabis consumption lounges are coming to New Jersey, giving consumers a place to come together and enjoy sociable sessions in a public setting. The lounges, unanimously approved by the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) in January, offer new opportunities to Garden State cannabis businesses and consumers alike. Here’s what you need to know about consumption lounges in NJ and what to expect in the coming months.

What are the rules for NJ consumption lounges?

The NJ CRC’s approval of cannabis consumption lounge rules came nearly a year after their introduction. Among the regulations governing these licensed “social use” locations are the following:

  • Consumption lounges must be attached to licensed retail locations. 
  • Consumption lounges are open to adults ages 21 years and older, and photo identification is required for entry.
  • Cannabis businesses are limited to one social use license, regardless of the number of dispensaries they operate. 
  • Social use licensing fees are $1,000 for microbusinesses and $5,000 for standard businesses.
  • Consumption lounges must install heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that prevent smoke and vapor from affecting neighbors.
  • Consumption lounges cannot sell tobacco, food, or alcohol, but guests may bring their own food or have it delivered (provided local governments allow it).
  • Businesses must not sell cannabis products to guests who show visible signs of intoxication, similar to requirements for bartenders.
  • Consumption lounges must be at least partially enclosed by barriers to prevent view from the public. 
  • Medical cannabis patients may bring their own cannabis products to consumption lounges.
  • Guests may not leave with unconsumed, opened packages of cannabis products — much like restaurant guests may not leave with opened alcoholic beverages.

These rules have been published in the New Jersey Register, effectively codifying them as written and paving the way for applications and licensing to begin. 

What do consumption lounges mean for NJ cannabis businesses?

Licensed cannabis retailers can pursue a social use license to open consumption lounges on the same site as their retail location, offering more opportunities to attract customers and sell products. For cannabis dispensaries looking to stand out from the crowd and offer something unique to attract more customers (and keep them on site longer), consumption lounges could be a big opportunity. 

According to NJ CRC Chief Counsel Christopher Riggs, an application process will begin soon. However, the state government’s website currently makes no mention of the social use license or where to apply. Commissioner Charles Barker added that the application process would include an “exclusive period for social equity, diversely-owned businesses,” which he said is a “critical component to establishing equity and leveling the playing field.”

Members of the NJ CRC suggested the addition of consumption lounges to the state’s growing cannabis industry would bolster tax revenues through additional sales and excise taxes on products sold, as well as the licensing fees and annual renewal fees businesses would pay to operate these lounges.

However, some retailers have pushed back against the regulations as currently written, suggesting the restrictions would make it difficult to turn a profit by hosting a social use space. Concerns include the restrictions on selling non-cannabis products, like food and beverages, and the availability of space at existing dispensary locations.

“From an operator’s perspective it’s hard to make money on that and to create that amazing environment,” Jonathan Bednarsh, co-founder of RIPT Dispensary, told PIX 11 when the NJ CRC first approved the rules. “Operators are going to struggle to have the space, or create a space if they can’t monetize the space.”

Other cannabis reform trends to watch in New Jersey

The Garden State is in for a big year when it comes to growing its cannabis industry and enacting reform policies. There are more than a dozen bills in the state legislature that could have a significant impact on New Jersey’s cannabis businesses and consumers, including:

  • Home grow rules: Senate Bill 1985 would legalize the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants for personal consumption and up to 10 plants for medical consumption for adults ages 21 years and older. A similar bill in the state Assembly (A414) would allow the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants, while S1393 and companion bill A846 would authorize the cultivation of medical cannabis.
  • Interstate commerce: A bill in the Senate, S2286, would authorize the governor to approve interstate commercial activity in certain instances. Interstate commerce is generally the domain of the federal government, which considers cannabis an illegal Schedule I drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.

  • Financial institution protections: Assembly bill A901 would offer protections to financial institutions and insurance companies working with cannabis businesses, preventing them from being penalized by state regulators for working with the industry. Similar bills in both chambers, S1955 and A453, would focus on establishing further protections for insurers working with cannabis businesses. A Senate bill, S1126, would establish a state bank dedicated to handling cannabis funds.
  • Employer and employee protections: Competing bills would extend protections to employees who use cannabis or empower employers to prohibit cannabis consumption by certain employees. A2719 would prevent employers from penalizing employees who test positive for cannabis metabolites, but S677 would allow employers to prohibit cannabis in some circumstances. A2798 would permit law enforcement agencies to prohibit consumption by officers.
  • Medical cannabis taxation: Assembly bill A1105 would exempt medical cannabis products from sales and excise taxes, bringing down costs for medical cannabis patients.

Keep an eye on these bills and other reform efforts as 2024 progresses to see how New Jersey’s cannabis industry may evolve. As the young industry grows and changes, those who are most adaptable to evolving regulations will stand the best chance of success in the future.

Stay informed with CWCBExpo

To stay in the loop on all things cannabis in New York, New Jersey, and beyond, keep an eye on CWCBExpo’s monthly news roundups, blog, and social media channels. And if you want to connect with cannabis industry leaders and experts from around the nation, sign up to attend or exhibit at this year’s CWCBExpo at the Javits Convention Center in New York City on June 5 and 6, 2024. You’re sure to come away with new insights, an expanded network, and exciting stories about one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. 


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