On January 17, 2024, New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) adopted new regulations allowing cannabis consumption areas, commonly called consumption lounges. The regulations present a unique opportunity only seen in a few other legal states, including California and Colorado, the flagship states of cannabis legalization.
The new regulations allow the CRC to issue consumption lounge endorsements to both medical and recreational dispensary licensees and cannabis retailers, who may then host consumers in a casual setting to try their goods. The lounges can be either indoor and structurally enclosed or in an exterior structure. The CRC provides numerous requirements for indoor lounges, such as physically separating the lounge from the dispensary. For outdoor lounges, other CRC requirements apply, such as blocking the view from nearby sidewalks. Additional requirements apply to both indoor and outdoor lounges, but most importantly, the consumption lounge must be on the same premises as the dispensary that holds the license.
Other restrictions apply to consumption lounge endorsements, including their inability to serve food. The CRC did not explain why food sales are excluded at lounges, especially since cannabis enthusiasts are historically known for their appetites. Similarly, consumption lounges will not be permitted to serve alcohol – even if the licensee holds a separate liquor license. Interestingly, though, the new regulations also allow hotels, motels, and other lodging facilities to permit cannabis consumption in smoker guest rooms.
Much like cannabis licenses, the CRC gives local governments a great deal of authority to adopt ordinances or regulations that restrict or outright ban consumption lounges. However, the ordinances cannot conflict with the CREAMM Act. We can expect the same or greater setbacks and minimum distance requirements from consumption lounges and sensitive places, like schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, and houses of worship.
Local governments also have an opportunity to review consumption lounge applicants – even if the town or city allows consumption lounges. After a consumption lounge application is submitted to the CRC, the town or city determines whether the application complies with local ordinances and regulations. Then, the town or city can notify the CRC of its position. If the local government does not take a favorable position and denies the request for an endorsement, the applicant can demand a hearing and plead their case.
Our Controlled Substances and Regulatory Practice attorneys understand the complex laws related to the production, sale, use, regulation, and legalization of controlled substances, including hemp, cannabis, and psychedelics. A multifaceted area of the law with conflicting regulations from different governing bodies, we help our clients navigate all aspects of this emerging field. Contact us if you have questions about this evolving area of law.