New Jersey cities and towns face a tight deadline to regulate cannabis businesses. Municipalities have until Aug. 21 to pass ordinances banning these businesses or limiting their presence within their borders. They could restrict the number of dispensaries or decide to only allow growing it, but not its sale.
The Cannabis Regulatory Commission held its fourth meeting Tuesday where many shared municipal concerns like zoning, traffic, local control and regulation of products like concentrates and edibles.
New Jersey voters said yes to legalizing marijuana last November by a 2-to-1 margin, but legal sales to those over 21 cannot begin until the commission establishes rules and licenses new dispensaries and grow facilities. Those will all need local approval from the cities and towns where they set up shop.
Much remains unknown
New Jersey municipalities argue that there is still much that remains unknown about how the state’s cannabis commission will regulate the new industry.
One of the principal concerns is the August 21 deadline which they feel it will likely force municipalities to make their choice before they can review the full regulations. “We are facing a lot of challenges with this deadline,” said Steven Pardalis, member of a group advising Bloomingdale on how to handle the regulations. “We have very little understanding of what our next steps are supposed to be.”
A lingering stigma
He said the small North Jersey town is open to sales, but without more information may move to ban sales and change its ordinance later. Bloomingdale is not the only case, many towns have opted out cautiously, fearing dispensaries will change the character of their town.
“We have to refrain from this lingering stigma of 80 years, this fear-based messaging,” said Krista Nash, one of the commissioners. “Erasing a stigma that has been perpetuated for many years is extremely difficult. But it’s not impossible.”
Janice Kovach, mayor of Clinton and president of the League of Municipalities, said cities and towns are worried about increased traffic when dispensaries open and asked the commission to give municipalities control over certain zoning issues and ways to discipline irregularities.“A one size fits all approach will not work,” she said, stressing particular concerns.
Kovach also urged the commission to ban cannabis gifting by unlicensed, commercial companies. These companies sell cookies or snacks and then gift the buyer with marijuana.
The commission also sought comment on cannabis concentrates and edibles, and concerns about high-potency products.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana, said high-potency items should have warnings and dosage recommendations
The commission approved three new medical marijuana dispensaries that will be run by currently licensed companies. They are Ascend Wellness in Fort Lee and Curalaef dispensaries in Edgewater Park and Bordentown.
However, it is unknown when the commission will announce the awardees of two dozen new medical marijuana licenses. More than 150 people and companies applied to grow, process or sell marijuana in 2019, but a lawsuit shutdown the review of the applications for more than a year.