Marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey this weekend were bustling with patrons eager to get their hands on cannabis products as legal recreational sales of the drug kicked off across the state. On Friday, one woman outside a dispensary in Maplewood rejoiced out loud that she had “outlived Prohibition!”
Among the crowd of patrons were people who had trekked across the Hudson River from New York City, where recreational sales are not permitted. Were these early signs of a sort of “reverse bridge-and-tunnel” effect, with New Jersey emerging as a new hot spot for weed aficionados and curious cannabis users?
“The only reason I came to Jersey was literally just to buy legal pot — that’s really the truth,” said Ethan, a 29-year-old Manhattanite who declined to give his surname because he did not want his employer to know he was there, on Saturday. “To buy it legal and not to have to deal through the illegal channels, it makes it easier. Even though it’s a premium, it just feels better.”
Ethan, who rented a Zipcar with a friend for the trip from New York to the Apothecarium dispensary in Maplewood, said that he had no plans to hang out in the area, apart from “smoking a J on the street.”
The relationship between New Jersey and New York is close but contentious, with New Jersey’s suburban life often portrayed as less glamorous than the fast life of the city. But anyone waiting to see New Yorkers flooding into New Jersey probably shouldn’t expect to see a reverse pipeline materialize any time soon, especially after New York City decriminalized use of the drug in recent months.
Eric, a 45-year-old Newark resident who works in Manhattan and was in line to buy weed on Saturday, said that he expected mostly people with cars to make the trip over.
“But not the ones that catch the subway because it’s too much,” he added. “New York, they got some stuff going on out there, and folks are using that.”
Existing medical dispensaries were the first allowed to apply to sell recreational cannabis, according to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
There are currently no operational dispensaries in nearby Hoboken and Jersey City, both of which are reachable from Manhattan via a $2.75 ride on the PATH train. A dispensary in Secaucus, although not far from a PATH station, sells only medicinal cannabis and did not apply for an expansion to offer recreational sales, according to the commission.
Statewide, there are 13 dispensaries licensed for recreational sales. Although many of them are accessible from New York City via car or longer trips aboard New Jersey Transit, none seem poised to capture the business of New Yorkers casually crossing the Hudson for an afternoon weed run.
In response to a reporter asking whether he traveled to New Jersey from New York City, one man outside a Rise dispensary in Bloomfield on Saturday replied, “Yeah right, I’m going to talk about how I’m smuggling weed back to New York.”
DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel at the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the legal concerns over carrying weed from state to state were valid. But, he added, he doesn’t believe that law enforcement officials in states that have legalized cannabis are concerned about its origin.
“The F.B.I. is not the one doing the traffic stop,” Mr. Ward said in a phone interview. “Weed is legal in New Jersey, it’s legal in New York. I think law enforcement in those particular states will mostly be concentrated on personal possession, if you’re impaired, things that violate the law in that individual state.”
Trafficking concerns aside, New York legalized recreational marijuana last year and is set to begin sales later this year as the state grants licenses to retailers, with priority given to those who have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense or have a family member who has been. Medical marijuana has been legal in New York since 2014.
Some establishments have found loopholes, including offering B.Y.O.C. — bring your own cannabis — at events. There’s also the “gray market,” according to Mr. Ward, which includes giving patrons a joint with the purchase of another item because exchanging cannabis as a gift between adults is now legal under New York law.
And of course, there’s the so-called legacy market, as some refer to the old-fashioned street dealers who have been selling cannabis or cannabis products since the beginning of Prohibition.
“I think those two combinations — the legacy market, the medical market — you’re not going to see maybe the huge numbers from New York to New Jersey,” Mr. Ward said.