Bumps In The Road For Legal Weed In New Jersey

Bridget Mulroy

New cannabis legislation addresses previous zoning concerns.(Joseph Thomas Photography/iStock)

In the election of 2020, New Jersey voted in favor of officially changing the state Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana. Question 1 on the ballot allowed New Jersey’s decision-makers to vote for or against the cultivation, processing, usage, retail, and possession of cannabis for persons 21 years of age and older. The referendum took effect on the 1st of January 2021 and ever since, New Jersey’s lawmakers have been hard at work to solidify the plant’s legal status.

The majority of legal legwork has fallen on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) to regulate laws around legal limits, range of potency, where it’s permitted, home-grow limitations, and retail aspects among other things. The amendment did initially put forward a taxation rate to match the state of New Jersey’s sales tax of 6.625%, but this percentage has come down for recreational cannabis since legislation has evolved.

New Jersey is days away from embarking upon this next legislative chapter in history. Nothing but good vibes for the Garden State, well, some of it anyways. As more and more businesses are applying for licenses to sell cannabis, certain community review boards are forced to decline the applications from specific towns.

Data collected by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJLM) was compiled into a chart by USA Today Network and New Jersey Herald. The breakdown shows that 70% of the state’s municipalities are opting to ban cannabis retail establishments. Believe it or not, the reason is not entirely political. As of today, “Only 98 municipalities will allow legal weed dispensaries.”

The final step in the process of welcoming legal weed can not be achieved in certain parts of the state because the majority of towns in New Jersey are either dominated by school zones or politically influenced. While the purpose of this article is not [entirely] to lobby harder against this roadblock, it’s clear that this is standing in the way of just how green the Garden State could be.

Fret not, the CRC is a step ahead of us on this one. Under federal law, The Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987 has classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance or controlled dangerous substance (CDS.) Under federal law, a “drug-free school zone” refers to the 1,000-foot buffer between the property of a school and the rest of the world. Technically, any existence of marijuana in that zone [or any other illicit drug] would be considered illegal.

New Jersey’s tentative laws change the definition of a CDS under New Jersey's Comprehensive Drug Reform Act to exclude legal cannabis from the category of dangerous and illegal substances. “This change means that a licensed and authorized cannabis facility may operate within the 1,000-foot drug-free school zone,” says NJLM.

To see the full list of New Jersey’s municipalities and where they stood on cannabis zoning during the last intake, check out the list from August 2021 published by NJ105.

NJLM continues to explain how “Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, 'distributing, possessing with intent to distribute, or manufacturing a controlled substance in or on, or within' 1,000" feet of, a school is still considered illegal. The new legislation is expected to change the jurisdiction indefinitely. Once it takes effect, towns throughout the state will no longer have the option to opt-out since the new legislation is all-inclusive.

Medicinal marijuana has been legal in New Jersey for over a decade. This has given the federal government less arguing power as more parts of the country transition to the new concept. Now it’s time to push the limits with legal marijuana. The confines surrounding its illegality are too archaically specific to continue to uphold as law. As more dispensaries open their doors for business, a shift will ensue. One that will encourage citizens to be more accepting of the plant’s capabilities and less bothered by something they’re not yet familiar with.

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Working formerly as a ghostwriter for a well-known New York magazine, Bridget Mulroy won two prestigious writing awards. As a writer, she takes a keen interest in topics that impact people's lives and will leave no stone unturned to share a story. Each of Bridget Mulroy's publications on the NewsBreak platform explores change and encourages readers to think beyond the limitations of the world they thought they knew.

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