Marijuana might be legal in New Jersey, but residents of most area municipalities will have to travel to another town if they want to buy some.
Only four communities in Mercer County—Ewing, Lawrence, Pennington and Trenton—are set to allow the retail sale of cannabis within their borders. Also on that list is Bordentown City in Burlington County.
Meanwhile, Bordentown Township, East Windsor, Hamilton, Hightstown, Borough, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, Princeton, Robbinsville and West Windsor and Plainsboro have either passed, or are in the process of passing, measures that ban the retail sale of the drug.
A law approved earlier this year by the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy mandates that municipalities must vote to opt-out of allowing businesses to operate under six newly-created licenses by Aug. 21.
The licenses that businesses can seek in connection with the recreational cannabis market are:
Class 1—Cannabis cultivator (growing cannabis);
Class 2—Cannabis manufacturer (preparing and packaging);
Class 3—Cannabis wholesaler (selling to other wholesalers and retailers);
Class 4—Cannabis distributor (selling between cultivators/establishments);
Class 5—Cannabis retailer (selling to retail customers); and
Class 6—Cannabis delivery from retailers to retail customers)
If a municipality does not specifically prohibit each class of license by the Aug. 21 deadline, they will automatically be allowed in the municipality for five years. The state law does allow towns that are currently banning the drug to allow cannabis sales at a later date.
Also under the law, towns can’t stop the use of cannabis or cannabis products within the municipalities or the delivery of recreational marijuana from outside of town.
Officials in most towns banning marijuana have cited the Aug. 21 deadline and uncertainty about how the state will implement legalization as reasons for passing the bans.
“Our residents are in support of (the new cannabis legalization legislation), but I know they are also in support of this town, and they don’t want us to make any rash decisions when it comes to this very vague law the way that it reads,” said Robbinsville Township Council President Mike Cipriano.
Officials in other towns echoed Cipriano’s sentiment.
“We are not banning anything. We are taking a pause,” said Hopewell Mayor Paul Anzano in a statement. “In passing this ordinance we are saying we are reviewing our master plan right now, which will flow to a review of the zoning ordinance, and we will make a determination about which of the six categories we may or may not want in the borough and how much of them.”
Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin said the town is banning all retail sales, but will allow certain “cannabusiness” operations in town.
“Hamiltonians voted overwhelmingly last year to approve adult-use cannabis,” said “As we take our first steps in listening to their voices, we do so cautiously by banning retail locations and limiting other types of licenses to a maximum of two and to only certain zones that would be away from our schools, parks, churches and homes.”
Hamilton is also banning the use of marijuana on any public property, including parks.
The township is opting to allow two Class 1 cultivation businesses, which will be limited to industrial, manufacturing, or research and development zones. They would be prohibited from locating within 1,000 feet of a school, and 500 feet of either a childcare center, residential zone, house of worship or public park.
Princeton decided to ban all cannabis businesses after appointing a task force to study the question of legalization. Princeton Councilwoman Eve Niedergang, who served as chair the Cannabis Task Force, said the group was unable to fully research the issue and recommended the town ban cannabis for now to allow for further exploration. She said that the task force hopes to craft a limited opt-in ordinance in the near future that would allow some retail sales in town.
Towns allowing retail marijuana businesses have all limited such establishments to certain zones.
For example, Pennington Borough would only allow cannabis retailers, cannabis delivery services and medical cannabis dispensaries to locate in the town’s business highway zone and the office business zone.
Lawrence Township municipal manager Kevin Nerwinski said that a number of cannabis businesses have expressed interest in locating in town and officials there are willing to allow them in certain areas.
“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,” he said.
The town is limiting cannabis retailers and delivery businesses to the Regional Commercial and Highway Commercial zones. Those areas include Quakerbridge Mall and Route 1 between Franklin Corner and Quakerbridge roads.
Ewing township is taking a similar approach. “Now that the recreational part has passed, I’ve had three developers already saying, ‘Hey we want to come into town,’ and we’re looking at it,” said Mayor Bert Steinmann. “We took the same approach with this that we did with tattoo parlors (limiting them to certain commercial areas in town). We’re zoning in such a way that they’re not on top of one another and that they’re limited to the number that can be in town.”
Last November voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, with 2,737,682 (67.08%) voting in favor and 1,343,610 (32.92%) voting against. In Mercer County, the vote was 119,390 (71%) to 48,171 (29%) in favor of legalization.
After the referendum, Gov. Murphy signed a package of laws that established rules and regulations for the state’s legal cannabis business. The package includes three separate bills. One established a new legalization system, and the other two overhauled the state’s massive drug control regulations.
The governor also appointed the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which has been meeting since April to establish specific guidelines regulating new dispensaries and grow facilities.
The CRC must establish rules and regulations governing the personal-use cannabis industry by Aug. 21.
Once the initial rules are established, they will be effective for up to one year. At that point, the CRC must readopt, amend or adopt more permanent regulations for the industry.