2017-05-LG-Nerwinski

Lawrence Township municipal manager Kevin Nerwinski.

On Feb. 22, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law P.L. 2021, C 16, known as the “New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act” (hereafter, the “Act”).

This Act legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 years of age or older and established a comprehensive regulatory and licensing scheme for commercial recreational cannabis operations, use, and possession. New Jersey now joins 20 other states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis (aka “marijuana”). And the vote was not even close:

• Statewide the vote was 2,737,682 yes to 1,343,610 no (67% to 33%).

• Mercer County was 119,390 yes to 48,171 no (71% to 29%).

• Lawrence Township was 11,993 yes to 4,883 no (71% to 29%).

So now that it is legal, what next?

Notably, the act provides municipalities with authority to permit, regulate and prohibit one or more of the six classes of licensed businesses to operate within their borders. To exercise the control provided in the act, a municipality must adopt an ordinance before Aug. 22, or lose the right to do so for at least five years. Therefore, our governing body has determined that it would be in the best interest of our community to adopt an ordinance to regulate where cannabis-related businesses may operate within our community.

For the past several years, I can tell you that officials from cannabis-related businesses have expressed great interest in our community because of its ideally situated location within the state and access to main highways.

I fully expect that there will be continued interest from all classes of cannabis businesses looking to operate within Lawrence Township now that the governor has signed it into law.

As a result, taking no action is not an option. We want to situate these businesses (most notably, cannabis retailers) in zones as far away from residential areas as possible to preserve the quality of life of our residents.

To that end, we have determined that a cannabis retailer or cannabis delivery business seeking to operate within Lawrence would be restricted to Route 1 between Franklin Corner and Quakerbridge roads—destination storefronts far removed from residential neighborhoods.

For example, the retail sale of cannabis will not be allowed at the Lawrence Shopping Center or any other storefront in areas within easy walking distance to residential neighborhoods.

In addition to the above, the governing body has determined that all other classes of cannabis-related businesses would be required to locate within our “mixed-use (MX),” “Limited Industry (LI),” and the Executive Park Plaza area.

These classes of business are low profile operations and would be well situated in these areas. Moreover, cultivating cannabis would be limited to the districts above but would not be permitted in our agricultural district (as a farming activity). Simply put, large cannabis farms are not appropriate for our community.

The obvious benefit to our municipality is increased job opportunities and an influx of commercial ratables. It will also provide another opportunity for abandoned buildings to become occupied and productive. In addition to these benefits, the act permits municipalities to impose a local cannabis tax (2% for Class 1, 2, 5, and 1% for Class 3 businesses). This tax would be an added revenue source to our municipal budget that will work to reduce our overall costs to operate as a municipality. I am just being real people—it will help.

I know that there will not be 100% approval from our residents passing an ordinance that authorizes cannabis-related businesses to operate here. Some will passionately advocate to prohibit it because they are against the use of marijuana. And, of course, it is their right to do so. Though 71% of Lawrence residents voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana for adults, I understand that the vote does not translate to a vote to authorize cannabis-related operations within our community. However, it does suggest that the majority would support a thoughtfully regulated, permitted use within our community, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

There have been no final decisions made. The mayor and council members have cast no votes and will continue to consider it all. The ordinance will be drafted over the next several days and placed on the agenda for introduction at an upcoming meeting. Stay tuned. I will make sure to shine a light on the process so that you are informed.

Below is a link to the state League of Municipalities website to better understand the issue and have some of your questions answered. It is a great resource and should be reviewed before opinions are expressed. Facts are critical to a productive community conversation! njlm.org/969/Cannabis-Legalization.

Kevin Nerwinski, a longtime resident of Lawrence, serves as Lawrence Township’s municipal manager.