The wait is over: AZ & NJ become 9th, 10th US states with marijuana dispensaries

The first medical cannabis dispensaries in Arizona and New Jersey have opened their doors, representing a major milestone for the two oft-delayed MMJ programs and establishing an official market for legal cannabis in each state.

Ten states now have dispensaries, and several more – including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont as well as the District of Columbia – are working to join the club.

Over the weekend, an Arizona dispensary began pre-registering patients, becoming the first in the state to do so. Then today, another dispensary became the first in the state to actually sell the drug to patients. The openings coincide with a landmark court ruling in favor of Arizona’s MMJ industry and come more than a year after the first dispensaries were due to launch. Arizona will likely become one of the biggest MMJ markets in the country after California, Colorado and Washington State. Current laws allow for 126 centers, and the state already has roughly 34,000 registered patients

Also this morning, the first dispensary in New Jersey – Greenleaf Compassion Center – opened its doors. It expects to handle about 20 patients today who previously made appointments. It’s not accepting walk-in business at this time and will only provide up to a half-ounce of marijuana to each patient per month – rather than the two ounces allowed under law – to ensure demand doesn’t outstrip supply. It was a costly endeavor: Board members running the nonprofit dispensary reportedly have already spent $450,000 to get the operation up and running, according to The Star-Ledger.

New Jersey passed its medical marijuana law nearly three years ago. Since then, officials wrangled over the best way to regulate the emerging industry, delaying the permitting and approval process for dispensaries. Now that a center has actually launched, the remaining five allowed under the law could have an easier time winning state and local approvals and opening their doors (though they are all in different stages of the process).

The market isn’t too big at this point, however, and that could deter some planned dispensaries from opening up in the immediate future. Just 338 patients have MMJ cards, and the state is currently processing 60 applications. At the current levels, each of the six nonprofit dispensaries would have an average of 56 patients, which would be difficult to build a viable operation around.

The number of registered patients in New Jersey is significantly lower than in other MMJ states, including those just starting their medical cannabis programs. It’s safe to say that New Jersey will remain one of – if not the – smallest medical marijuana market for the foreseeable future for one main reason: The state’s MMJ program is much stricter than others. In many other states, patients with severe or chronic pain can qualify for medical cannabis cards. In New Jersey, however, the list of qualifying conditions is more limited, including only severe ailments such as multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy and inflammatory bowel disease.

The market is important nonetheless to the industry as a whole, and there are still plenty of opportunities for related businesses. The state could also add new qualifying medical conditions – and boost the number of allowable dispensaries – over time.