The vast majority of New Jersey voters approved a referendum last year to legalize marijuana. So why have more than 70% of the state’s municipalities chosen to ban cannabis companies from operating in their area?
The answer is not simple NIMBY-ism as some prohibitionists would like. First, voters have had no say in local decisions so far, with elected officials making the choice through city councils.
But it is also true that elected officials in several regions who support the commercialization of cannabis have chosen to enact a ban before the August 22 deadline simply to give themselves more time to develop individualized regulations before giving the green light to companies. of marijuana. It was also the deadline for the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) to issue the state’s first regulations for the market, which it did a little earlier than expected last week.
“I have fought hard for the legalization of cannabis in New Jersey, but over the past two months I have recommended that municipalities ‘withdraw’ from licensing dispensaries on a temporary basis, unless they are not ready to approve a specific dispensary prior to “withdrawal”. deadline last week, ”David Nathan, founder of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, told Marijuana Moment. “This is because the cities that opt cannot retire for several years, but the cities that opt out can reverse their decision at any time. “
“In fact, I am on the Princeton Cannabis Task Force and have recommended that we step down until we have resolved the zoning and other governance issues,” he continued. . “It’s not because I don’t think Princeton should have a dispensary – I actually hope we have a dispensary ‘in my backyard’. In particular, I hope we choose a cannabis company that helps empower communities of color, which have suffered disproportionately under the war on drugs.
In any case, like the New Jersey Herald, which is part of the USA Today Network, reported As of Monday, nearly 71% of jurisdictions – about 400 municipalities across the state – said no to the immediate authorization of cannabis stores. And while it stands to reason that there could be bottlenecks in consumer access because of this, stakeholders have stressed that they expect this to be temporary.
Here is an interactive map showing the current local ordinances on marijuana businesses in New Jersey, according to the Herald.
Camden City Council voted against allowing adult-use marijuana businesses, for example, but that’s not because lawmakers object to the industry coming under its jurisdiction.
“It feels more like a break to have the industry in town, especially to give us control over the industry in Camden,” Nichelle Pace, chair of the committee that issued the recommendation, Recount WHY in June. “It gives us a chance to have a roadmap and make the best recommendations for policies and procedures.”
Nathan said that “the opt-out that we’re seeing statewide is just the right strategy based on how the opt-out / opt-in rules were put in place here in the state of garden “.
The Herald illustrated the contrast between voter approval for reform and local bans in a spreadsheet that shows the percentage of people in a given district who helped pass the referendum versus non-participation orders .
He revealed that while around 400 municipalities have decided – at least in the short term – to ban cannabis dispensaries, there are only three jurisdictions where voters did not approve legalization last year.
Here is a list of local marijuana ordinances and the results of last year’s referendum vote for each jurisdiction, as analyzed by the Herald.
Meanwhile, the mayors of Paterson and Englewood both have vetoed city council decisions to ban marijuana shops in recent weeks. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh (D) said the city was “at significant risk of being the last to market with an inability to meaningfully take advantage of the legal, social and economic opportunities offered by legal cannabis” if it delays the authorization of companies.
As for the new NJCRC rules for the adult-use marijuana market, here are the highlights:
-Adults 21 and older can purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Home cultivation would not be allowed.
-There will be three categories of licenses that regulators will prioritize and which are designed to promote social equity by helping businesses owned by minorities and women or located in an economically disadvantaged area.
-Regulators must choose a sales start date within 180 days of the effective date.
– Overall, there are six main categories of licenses: growers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors and delivery services.
-While individual municipalities can choose to ban marijuana businesses from operating in their area – and hundreds have done so in anticipation of these bylaws being enacted – they cannot ban delivery services.
-Municipalities have until Saturday to pass ordinances regulating or banning cannabis businesses.
-Licencing decisions will be based on market demand, and regulators will also prioritize microenterprises and conditional licenses, in addition to social equity candidates.
-There will be no license cap, except for growers. The cultivator cap is 37, although it expires on February 22, 2023.
-Previous convictions for marijuana will not prevent people from obtaining a license to operate cannabis.
-Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to seek municipal approval to sell recreational cannabis products. Their approval should depend on sufficient supply to continue supplying patients.
-The license application fee is intentionally kept low, with applicants only having to pay 20 percent of the fee when submitting the application and only 80 percent if approved. Total fees will vary from $ 500 to $ 2,000.
-Cannabis products must be in child-resistant packaging with labels warning of potential health risks. Advertising is allowed, but with significant restrictions.
Although the document lays the foundation for the New Jersey marijuana market, regulators have pointed out that it will rely on more specific regulations for things like delivery services and wholesalers, and that the initial rules may still be changed over time.
Advocates reportedly hoped that the legalization bill signed by the governor would have included provisions allowing adults to cultivate for personal use, or restricted the ability of individual jurisdictions to refuse to allow marijuana businesses. But regulators have noted that they are bound by the law and cannot independently set such rules.
Shortly after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) enacted the implementing bill in February, the state attorney general ordered prosecutors to drop cases of cannabis offenses and released separate guidelines for police on how to proceed under the updated laws.
And while the commission’s new rules for the marketplace don’t address write-offs for people who have previously been convicted of marijuana, that process has been addressed in separate decriminalization legislation.
Last month, New Jersey justice announced that it had overturned or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases since July 1, when the decriminalization law came into effect, imposing relief on those who have been taken in the enforcement of the ban.
The courts have said this was only the first of some 360,000 cannabis cases that can be automatically quashed, dismissed and expunged.
Former state attorney general Gurbir Grewal (R) has also taken steps to ensure that people do not exploit the legalization law provisions before retail sales launch.
In June, he sent warning letters to companies that were effectively circumventing state marijuana laws by “offering” cannabis in exchange for non-marijuana purchases, such as cookies, brownies and overpriced stickers.
Giveaways are legal between adults 21 and over under the New Jersey Adult Cannabis Act, but a number of companies have reportedly taken advantage of this policy by offering “free” cannabis products. to those who buy other items like snacks and baked goods.
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