Camden moves to ban cannabis businesses to implement its own rules in the future

Officials face an Aug. 22 deadline under the measure giving the Cannabis Regulatory Commission control over the N.J. recreational marijuana market.

Marijuana buds are seen in a glass jar

File photo: Marijuana buds are shown at Huron View Provisioning in Ann Arbor, Mich., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Camden City Council is working quickly to ban cannabis businesses from operating within the city — a move designed to give officials more time to craft rules that will ultimately allow such businesses to open there.

“It’s more like a pause on having the industry in the city, particularly to give us control over the industry in Camden,” said Nichelle Pace, who chairs an ad hoc committee that will recommend rules for the recreational marijuana market. “It gives us a chance to have a road map and put in best recommendations for policies and procedures.”

City officials are under an Aug. 22 deadline resulting from the bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in February that gave the Cannabis Regulatory Commission the power to establish and regulate the recreational marijuana market in New Jersey. The measure gave municipalities six months to decide whether they would allow cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdictions under state rules or opt out.

If a municipality does not enact an ordinance by the deadline, then any cannabis business that is permitted would be allowed to operate under state rules. At that point, it would be five years before a municipality could revisit prohibiting such businesses.

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“If we don’t opt out, we are just subject to the state’s rules, and we have no control [over] who comes in here,” Pace said.

The ordinance is expected to be approved by the City Council. A related resolution calls on the ad hoc committee to provide recommendations by Aug. 31.

As Camden planned strategically to give itself more time to come up with rules, a bill was introduced last Monday in the state Assembly that would extend the “opt-out” deadline by 60 days.

Camden is not the first to consider a pause to look at the big picture, according to Mike McQueeny, an attorney with Foley-Hoag who consults municipalities and businesses on the cannabis industry in New Jersey and New York. He is also counsel for the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association.

“A lot of communities statewide have some form of a cannabis task force [or committee] to study what the impact will be on their individual communities,” McQueeny said, adding that by implementing a pause municipalities would miss out on the revenue the businesses could bring in.

“The first thing that almost any business looking to get into the cannabis industry does is … go to professionals and [ask], ‘What towns are open for business,’” he said.

Camden’s committee has been meeting for months. Pace said that it’s not just about recreational marijuana, and that members have been looking at the budding industry as a whole, not just the recreational portion of it.

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“We still have to make sure we are answering the needs of those patient services on the medical side,” she said. “The closest dispensary to Camden is about 13 miles away in Bellmawr.”

In addition to medical needs, Pace said the committee is looking at hemp, as well.

“It’s not so much on cannabis and medical, but that’s industrial manufacturing, building products, packaging materials,” she said. “Hemp is the larger … revenue generator.”

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