N.J.’s new legal weed market faces municipal bans, slow adoption by medical industry

In this March 22, 2019, file photo, a marijuana plant grows at the Compassionate Care Foundation's grow house in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

In this March 22, 2019, file photo, a marijuana plant grows at the Compassionate Care Foundation's grow house in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

New Jersey officials have begun work on setting up the state’s new recreational marijuana marketplace after voters approved the law change in November. But there are still many hurdles to clear, said Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, during the agency’s first official meeting Monday afternoon.

One challenge is the growing number of municipalities across the state that have enacted bans on the budding industry. According to NJ.com, dozens of cities and towns have preemptively blocked the sale of recreational cannabis within their borders. South Jersey municipalities that have passed bans include Bridgeton in Cumberland County, Lumberton in Burlington County, Manning Township and Upper Pittsgrove in Salem County, and Pleasantville and Somers Point in Atlantic County.

“A municipal ban doesn’t necessarily ban cannabis from that municipality,” Brown said, “it just bans our ability to regulate an industry there.”

Brown urged municipalities to share feedback and to read the state’s recreational marijuana regulations, which will now be worked out by the commission, before deciding to ban the drug.

Another potential stumbling block is the slow pace at which some medical marijuana businesses are adapting to the new legal market. Officials had said that recreational cannabis sales could begin earlier than planned if medical marijuana businesses with a current footprint in the state participate in the new industry.

Brown said some medical marijuana dispensaries are moving faster than others. “In order to launch a legal market on the backbones of our current industry, we would really need to see action across the board,” he noted.

Dianna Houenou, chair of the five-member commission, has previously said people probably will not be able to walk into a recreational marijuana dispensary and buy the drug until 2022.

Still, Brown said the state would be able to enhance its new legal weed market by expanding the permitting process and collaborating with other states, such as New York, which also have recently legalized recreational marijuana. The commission’s next meeting is on April 22.

New Jersey voters approved a ballot question legalizing recreational cannabis by a two-to-one margin in the November election.

Several months later, lawmakers and Gov. Murphy agreed on a package of bills setting up the new cannabis industry, which decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and set up a tax structure, with a focus on social justice, that sends money back to communities that were historically most impacted by harsh drug laws.

Commissioner Charles Barker, an aide to New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker, said he applauds the body’s focus on equity and social justice.

“In the same way that the war on drugs — also known as the war on people — created policies primarily targeted at Black and brown communities for their destruction, it is humbling to be in a position to create policies and regulations primarily focused on restoring these same communities,” he said.

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