Cannabis in New Jersey is legal but most places don't want it

Why Most New Jersey Municipalities are Banning Marijuana Shops

Two-thirds of New Jersey voters approved a referendum last year to legalize marijuana. So why have more than 70 percent of municipalities in the state opted to ban cannabis businesses from operating in their area?

Your first thought might be that this is simple “Not in My Backyard” reasoning. But it’s much more complicated than that.

Voters haven’t had a direct say in the local decisions so far, and officials have been making the choice through city councils. And elected officials in several areas who do support cannabis commercialization chose to enact a ban ahead of an Aug. 22 deadline simply to give themselves more time to develop individualized regulations before greenlighting marijuana companies. That was also the deadline for the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) to issue initial state regulations for the market, which it did slightly ahead of schedule recently.

“I fought hard for cannabis legalization in New Jersey, but in the past couple of months I have recommended that municipalities ‘opt out’ of allowing dispensaries as a temporary measure, unless they were ready to approve a specific dispensary before the ‘opt out’ deadline,” David Nathan, founder of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, said. “That’s because towns that opt in cannot opt out for several years, but towns that opt out can reverse their decision at any time.”

It gives us a chance to have a road map and put in best recommendations for policies and procedures.

Nichelle Pace

Nathan is on the Princeton Cannabis Task Force, and he recommended opting out until zoning and other governance issues have been worked out.

“It’s not because I don’t think Princeton should have a dispensary — I actually do hope we have a dispensary ‘in my backyard,’” he said. “In particular I hope we choose a cannabis business that helps empower communities of color, which have disproportionately suffered under the war on drugs.”

In any case, as the New Jersey Herald reported, nearly 71% of jurisdictions — about 400 municipalities across the state — have said no to immediately allowing cannabis shops. And while there could be some delays in consumer access because of that, stakeholders have stressed that they expect it to be temporary.

link to the above:

The Camden City Council voted against allowing adult-use marijuana businesses, for example, but not because legislators oppose having the industry in its jurisdiction. “It’s more like a pause on having the industry in the city, particularly to give us control over the industry in Camden,” Nichelle Pace, chair of the committee that issued the recommendation, said.

Nathan said the “opting out we’re seeing across the state is simply the right strategy based on how the opt-out/opt-in rules were set up here in the Garden State.”

But ACLU of New Jersey attorney Joe Johnson said that many moves to ban cannabis businesses are based on old stigmas rooted in fear. “With 67% of New Jersey voters saying yes to legalizing cannabis and passage in all but three of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities, the municipalities that have opted out have unfortunately missed an opportunity to carry out the will of the voters,” Johnson said. “We hope for the sake of New Jerseyans that these municipalities take advantage of their freedom to reverse their initial decision and choose to opt in.”

The Herald found that while about 400 municipalities have decided — at least in the short-term — to disallow cannabis dispensaries, there are only three jurisdictions where voters didn’t approve legalization last year.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Paterson and Englewood have vetoed city council decisions to ban marijuana shops in recent weeks. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh (D) said the city runs “significant risk of being last to the market with an inability to meaningfully take advantage of the legal, social and economic opportunities legal cannabis provides” if it delays permitting the businesses.

Among the highlights of NJCRC’s newly released rules for the adult-use marijuana market: 

-Adults 21 and older can purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. No home cultivation would be permitted.

-There will be three licensing categories that regulators will prioritize designed to promote social equity by helping businesses that are minority- and women-owned or located in an economically distressed area.

-Regulators must pick a date for sales to launch within 180 days of the effective date.

-The six main licensing categories are: cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors and delivery services.

-While individual municipalities can elect to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area, they cannot prohibit delivery services.

-Licensing decisions will be based on market demand, and regulators will also be prioritizing microbusiness and conditional licenses, in addition to social equity applicants.

While the document sets the foundation for New Jersey’s marijuana market, regulators stressed that it will be built upon with more specific regulations for things like delivery services and wholesalers, and that the initial rules can still be amended over time.

Advocates hoped that the legalization bill signed by the governor would’ve included provisions allowing adults to cultivate for personal use, or restricted the ability of individual jurisdictions to opt out of permitting marijuana businesses. But regulators have noted that they are bound by the legislation and cannot independently make such rules.

“Towns that opt in cannot opt out for several years, but towns that opt out can reverse their decision at any time.”

David Nathan

Shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed the implementation bill into law in February, the state’s attorney general directed prosecutors to drop cases for cannabis-related offenses and issued separate guidance for police on how to proceed under the updated laws.

And while the commission’s new rules for the market don’t touch on expungements for people with prior marijuana convictions, that process has been addressed in separate decriminalization legislation.

Recently, the New Jersey judiciary announced that it had vacated or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when the decriminalization law took effect mandating relief for people who have been caught up in prohibition enforcement. The courts said these are just the first of about 360,000 cannabis cases that are eligible to be automatically vacated, dismissed and expunged.

This piece is a part of a content sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!