Legalization of Marijuana in New Jersey and Its Impact on Zoning Law

For better or worse, the legalization of marijuana is on the horizon and it appears that local government in New Jersey will have to address a myriad of issues related to it.  At the moment, the New Jersey bill with the greatest likelihood of success is Senate Bill 830, which follows the Colorado model.

Municipalities, In or Out?

Section 11 of the proposed legislation addresses municipal zoning. Perhaps the most daunting problem for municipalities will be the need to relatively quickly devise a path that will work for each town. Some municipalities have already passed ordinances banning marijuana in all places and in all forms. Those ordinances may well be sustainable under S830.  Unlike most zoning regulations that allow governments to make changes in two to three months, the legislation as drafted gives all of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities one year to decide if they are in or out. If you elect to be in or out, you are then frozen in that position for 5 years.

Interestingly, the Colorado law legalizing marijuana granted the same liberties to its municipalities. In Colorado, 176 of their 271 municipalities have banned the retail sale of marijuana. 1

Opting In

If you decide to opt in, you are far from finished. There seems to be four areas of zoning regulation and consideration: agriculture, manufacturing, medicinal distribution and recreational use. From a farming perspective, questions arise such as how many acres will be required? What security protocols will be needed? Will the right to farm act cover this crop and will farms have a right to set up a roadside farm stand to sell this product…Brings a whole new meaning to the term “Jersey Fresh.”

From a manufacturing perspective, is this a use that goes into an industrial zone for processing and packaging? What about warehousing this product? Do we want these facilities to have extra acreage, or perhaps special electrostatic devices to eliminate fumes? Living near a manufacturing plant that produces the wonderful smell of coffee, I am reminded that smelling marijuana might present problems not inherent with the fragrance of coffee.

Medicinal marijuana is currently being distributed at designated facilities, but in the future this service could easily and securely be provided by our pharmacies.

Recreational Use

The trickiest category will be recreational use. It is the author’s opinion that marijuana will fall under New Jersey’s smoke free laws and so smoking indoors in public places will be prohibited. So, a municipality could regulate when and where marijuana is sold and where it may be smoked outdoors; but it seems unlikely that marijuana cafes will be allowed. In other words, if hookahs are prohibited, so are bongs.

How about at Woodstock type events or amusement parks? Anywhere people are having a good time and alcohol is present could be a venue for weed, provided it’s an outdoor venue.

Colorado's Path

As Colorado is the model for the current New Jersey legislation, it makes sense to look for guidance to the regulations their local governments have created. They seem very sensible, but in the end every Jersey town or city will have to parse out what will work for them.

There may be value and revenue for those municipalities who embrace some or all aspects of this industry. Some even think that it could be a tourism attraction.  As an observation, every New Jersey municipality has their own personality and you must follow the path that is right for your community. Both Ocean City and Ocean Grove ban alcohol and do fine. As a matter of fact, Somers Point sits next to Ocean City and provides the necessary booze to vacationing imbibers and quaffers vacationing in Ocean City. So, expect some enterprising nearby community to offer what you do not.

The time is now to hash out if or how marijuana fits into your Master Plan.

footnote 1 "Municipal Retail Marijuana Status". Colorado Municipal League. April 2017.