Last November, the people of New Jersey sent an almost universal message, overwhelmingly supporting the legalization of recreational cannabis. According to a post-election analysis by USA Today Network, 562 of the 565 municipalities in the state won the backing of voters.
As a result, the New Jersey’s legislature created Bill S21 this past February that Governor Phil Murphy signed into law, regulating the sale of cannabis to anyone over the age of 21. But the case is far from an open and closed issue.
Bill S21 allows New Jersey’s municipalities to ban or limit the number of cannabis businesses (such as dispensaries, delivery services and cultivators) from operating in their communities. Dozens of municipalities — from North, South and Central Jersey as well as the Jersey Shore — have opted out. They cannot, however, ban residents from consuming marijuana, nor can they ban licensed cannabis delivery companies from making stops within their borders.
Give the people what they want? Not necessarily.
As it stands right now, there can be a disconnect between a town government opposing the legal cannabis industry with residents who support it, even a majority. The pushback from town officials cite these reasons among others:
- Marijuana usage can become a potential substance abuse problem, posing a public health risk
- Pot has become much stronger over the past 20 years
- Flavored products such as cannabis gummy bears can make it more appealing to children
- Large-scale studies on the long-term effects of legalized weed have not yet been conducted
- Concern that legalization will turn municipalities into destination towns for non-residents
- In states with legalized marijuana use, research shows that hospital visits among cannabis users increased. In Colorado, for example, emergency visits doubled after legalization of recreational marijuana.
Decision time: August 21
Now that New Jersey has legalized the use of recreational cannabis, local municipalities have some important decisions to make. They have until Aug. 21 to pass ordinances that either ban cannabis businesses, welcome them or set limits for the types of businesses or number of dispensaries.
Some are taking the conservative approach —banning everything until they see how it works in other cities and towns before they revisit the situation. However, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which oversees the legal weed industry in New Jersey, encourages all municipalities to wait and see the full scope of their regulations before acting.
In the meantime, some towns are doing their due diligence now, before the August 21 deadline, to develop an ordinance that works for their community. Actions may include designating certain commercial zones where dispensaries would be allowed or limiting the total number instead of issuing an outright ban. Some towns are polling residents in their community to get insights on their concerns, such as whether they want limits placed and other issues.
Bottom line: Municipalities can utilize this time to fully explore the implications and scope of legalized weed in their community. By carefully weighing the pros and cons, officials can implement rules that work well within their borders — for the new industry and its residents.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission will hold its next meeting June 1, and is seeking comment from municipal representatives about zoning concerns and the best ways to implement regulations. For more information, visit: www.nj.gov/cannabis/meetings.
Helping New Jersey municipalities thrive
At Weiner Law Group LLP, we understand that legalized recreational cannabis has far-reaching implications for the many towns throughout the Garden State. Our experienced municipal attorneys can counsel you on the best path to take going forward. With a respected presence throughout New Jersey, we remain at the forefront of this new and complex area of practice and take pride in helping our clients work on cutting-edge issues that build a stronger future — town by town.
To learn more, please call us at 973-403-1100.