⚫ Final approval for consumption lounges is expected in the next few weeks

⚫ Some towns have already approved the opening of consumption lounges

⚫ Not all customers will be forced to buy their cannabis on site

New Jersey should soon give the final green light to consumption lounges, offering marijuana users a place to enjoy the drug in public.

But with that approval comes a list of strict rules that must be followed, and the only way you'll get a lounge by you is if your municipality says it's OK.

Rules approved in January by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission establish a framework for dispensary operators who want to add a cannabis consumption space to their property.

Rules for NJ consumption lounges

According to the rules that have one more step of approval to complete, a consumption lounge must be attached to a dispensary. The facility has to be obscured from public view, and it needs to be equipped with a robust ventilation system to prevent the smoke or stench from affecting neighbors.

The sale of food, any beverages (including water), and tobacco will be strictly prohibited, but patrons can bring or order their own food and nonalcoholic beverages. And independent food trucks are permitted to sell food outside the lounge.

Patients of New Jersey's medical marijuana program must be allowed to bring in their own cannabis from other licensed retailers, the rules say. Operators will have the option to prohibit adult-use patrons from bringing in their own product.

"It's going to be tough for people in the short run, I really think, to make any kind of significant income from a consumption lounge," said Rob Mejia, a teaching specialist in Stockton University's cannabis studies program.

But the main reason for lounges, Mejia said, is to give marijuana customers a place to use the product.

"Unless you're a homeowner, you don't really have a place to consume cannabis," he said. "You can't do it in hotels, on the street, on the beach, in a federal park."

Businesses will have flexibility with operating hours, and whether or not to charge a fee to individuals who want to enter the lounge.

The rules advanced by the NJ-CRC on Jan. 15 now need approval by the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, and the NJ-CRC expects that will happen by late February.

"New Jersey's cannabis industry is well on its way to being a billion-dollar industry, and consumption areas will likely bolster that — fostering a communal experience for those 21 and older around cannabis in a regulated and secure space," said Jeff Brown, NJ-CRC's executive director.

NJ towns can prohibit lounges

Upon final approval, cannabis businesses can apply to have their consumption area approved, as long as the concept of consumption lounges has municipal approval.

Dispensary operators will be limited to running one consumption area in the state, regardless of the number of dispensaries they own.

Mejia expects a slow start to the lounge scene once it's up and running, with pockets of activity in spots like Atlantic City, where Mejia is in contact with six different operators who all have plants to operate a lounge.

Select municipalities have already OK'd consumption lounges, including Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Trenton, and Scotch Plains.

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