New Jerseyites may still be celebrating the fact that their state legalized adult-use cannabis on Feb. 22, 2021, but it seems that the vast majority of towns remain unwilling to partake in the industry. Based on the latest analysis of municipal cannabis ordinances, almost 71% of towns across the Garden State have outlawed adult-use cannabis retail sales.
In order to carry out their investigation, analysts assessed municipal documents and public notices from 551 of the 565 municipalities scattered around the state. No immediate information was made available from the other 14 towns in New Jersey. On the plus side, a total of 10 municipalities that voted to opt out of the legal cannabis industry have considered medical cannabis use a “special case.”
Approximately 400 municipalities have chosen to steer clear of New Jersey’s recreational cannabis market; ordinances have been passed to outlaw the operation of cannabis manufacturing, wholesaling, and delivery, as well as dispensary retail businesses and cultivation facilities. A mere 98 municipalities—most of which are based in Central Jersey and South Jersey—introduced ordinances that enable legal cannabis dispensaries to operate within their borders.
On top of this, 41 towns imposed ordinances to prevent dispensaries from launching yet still permit specific types of cannabis licenses, such as those for cultivation facilities and delivery services. “It fits what our residents would allow and what our infrastructure had to offer,” is what Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor Michael Soriano had to say on the subject.
As per the imposed municipal ordinances, dispensaries must abide by harsh zoning regulations. For example, some dispensaries are restricted to doing business in distinct zones or redevelopment areas. In addition to the aforementioned ordinances, an ordinance has also been implemented by a township committee that allows cannabis industry players to open warehouses and distribution businesses in specific zones.
Based on the legal cannabis laws that were authorized by Gov. Phil Murphy in February, New Jersey municipalities were obligated to approve ordinances that either established certain zoning regulations or completely prohibited cannabis businesses no later than Aug. 22, 2021.
Municipalities that failed to pass an ordinance must now deal with the fact that dispensaries will automatically be deemed a conditional use, regardless of retail zone. The same rule applies to other types of cannabis businesses located in any industrial zone. It should be noted that local planning boards are responsible for approving conditional-use businesses before they can be launched.
According to George Jackson, a business administrator based in Long Branch, “the (state) regulations do give municipalities quite a voice.” He speaks from experience since his city was one of a handful that allowed the deadline to expire on Aug. 22. Following the deadline’s passing, the city council proceeded to adopt its own set of regulations, which are now in the draft phase. In Jackson’s opinion, the city’s decision reflects a desire to satisfy the needs of the 71% of local “yes” voters, many of whom have been starved of their power to contribute to decision-making on cannabis retail sales in New Jersey.
“Long Branch will be protected and we will be able to make good sound decisions on what uses and where they will be located,” he added. Aug. 22 was also the deadline on which the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) was instructed to release introductory state regulations for the market–a task that the Commission eagerly accomplished on Aug. 19.
While it might come as quite a shock to learn that so many municipalities have opted out of legal cannabis sales in New Jersey, there is a silver lining. According to the president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, Edmund DeVeaux, there is hope on the horizon for future market growth.
DeVeaux, whose association promotes industry sustainability and responsibility, recently aired his thoughts during a discussion with reporters. He does not think that the opt-outs will prevent the state’s legal cannabis industry from evolving, especially over the course of the next few years.
The Association’s president feels inspired by Colorado’s recreational cannabis market. Despite maturing into one of the most lucrative markets in the U.S., Colorado’s adult-use cannabis industry didn’t look so rosy during its early days. Back in 2014, when the state’s legalization law was enacted, 70% of the state’s municipalities initially opted out of recreational sales.
“They saw that the sky didn’t fall, and that the revenue generated by neighboring towns was really just too lucrative to pass by,” DeVeaux told reporters, as he drew attention to the fact that the number of Colorado municipalities permitting legal cannabis sales has doubled over the last four years.
New Jersey state law specifies that municipalities do not maintain the power to stop residents from consuming or possessing legally sold cannabis. However, the rule is void if a state resident does so on public property. Conversely, municipalities cannot impose bans on cannabis delivery services that are carried out within their borders. Moreover, municipalities are not legally allowed to ban wholesale-retail cannabis product transportation that occurs in townships.
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