Options for housing the state’s marijuana industry in North Jersey are going up in smoke.
Since April, officials in more than three dozen municipalities in Bergen and Passaic counties have introduced or adopted ordinances restricting all six classes of cannabis business: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and deliverer. On June 9, council members in Pompton Lakes confirmed their town’s place on the list.
Michael Serra, the town’s mayor, said it was clear residents supported the idea of being able to legally smoke marijuana.
More than 65% of voters in Bergen and Passaic counties in the 2020 General Election approved an amendment to the state constitution legalizing recreational cannabis and establishing a state-regulated market in New Jersey. Pompton Lakes voters were on trend.
Still, Serra said he believes the support wasn’t necessarily an invitation to the cannabis industry. On April 29, a special public meeting designed to provide town officials with input on a potential “cannabusiness” ban saw residents evenly split on the issue.
“At the end of the day, they probably didn’t want it in their own town,” Serra said. “They were assuming every other town would do it.”
Overall, in Passaic County most towns are opting out. Officials in Ringwood, Totowa, Bloomingdale and North Haledon recently introduced laws to ban all six classes of cannabis businesses. Besides Pompton Lakes, Wayne and Woodland Park have also already adopted them. More towns could follow.
“I think that it is a cautious decision because this is new to New Jersey,” said Keith Kazmark, the Woodland Park mayor. “We are going to take a wait and see attitude on this; see how it works and how it unfolds.”
In Bergen County, more than a dozen towns have already enacted bans, including Hasbrouck Heights, Park Ridge, Waldwick, Alpine, Upper Saddle River and Oakland. Oakland Councilman Pat Pignatelli said the aversion had more to do with the state’s still uncertain regulations than the industry itself.
“By banning it, we reserve our right to accept or deny it,” he said. “This is such a monumental step for us, I would encourage a cautious approach.”
Towns throughout the state have until Aug. 21 to adopt ordinances regulating marijuana sales or accept them by default. The deadline was set for 180 days after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a series of bills legalizing the industry to allow town officials time to research their options and adopt an ordinance.
Many towns throughout the state enacted bans in 2018, with Murphy vowing to sign a legalization bill if the legislature could agree on one. Still, the new law canceled out the old bans.
Municipalities that fail to adopt new ordinances banning some or all the classes of cannabis establishments by the deadline will be unable to do so for the next five years. Towns that adopt ordinances that ban some or all the classes can reverse their decisions, however. Existing businesses would nonetheless be grandfathered in.
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Like officials in Woodland Park and Oakland, council members in Pompton Lakes cited a desire to monitor the industry as it develops. Some, such as Councilwoman Maria Kent, expressed interest in exploring regulations to permit select categories, such as cultivation and manufacturing, but not right away.
“I think our town is more of a conservative town, I don’t think we like to jump into things that haven’t been tested,” Kent said. “I feel that the opt-out initially would be the most prudent way to go because you can always go back in.”
A spattering of towns, however, are not going to wait. Haledon officials have developed an ordinance permitting all classes of cannabusiness in its Neighborhood Business Zone and C Business Zone. Introduced on May 27, the ordinance could be adopted as soon as July 8.
“We’re going to embrace the fact that more than two-thirds of New Jerseyans wanted this legalized,” said Domenick Stampone, Haledon’s mayor.
“We see this as a revenue source,” Stampone added, “and frankly, it’s just a reflection of what people want.”
Retail sales and other cannabis transactions will be taxed on the state level. Still, the industry’s host municipalities can levy additional 1% or 2% taxes on select transactions. In Paterson, where officials are still discussing their options on possible recreational regulations, the city government is taking in about $25,000 a month in a 2% transfer tax on medical marijuana sales.
Mayor Andre Sayegh said the medical sales center is hiring local workers, boosting the city’s revenues and generally proving to be a positive addition to the community. It bodes well for sentiment surrounding a potential recreational dispensary, he added.
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In the City of Passaic, officials adopted an ordinance on April 27 that prohibits businesses that engage in the retail sale and delivery of cannabis. However, the ordinance had the municipality the first in Passaic County to permit grow houses, packaging plants, marijuana wholesalers and cannabis haulers.
City officials are seeking to place cannabusinesses in older factories in the manufacturing zone along Market, Eighth and South streets, said Rick Fernandez, the city’s business administrator.
Officials at the opposite end of the county, in Republican-controlled West Milford, are expected to welcome all classes of the industry. On June 9, officials there introduced an ordinance that would allow retailers to set up shops in the town’s commercial and retail zones – primarily along Route 23 or Greenwood Lake Turnpike. The other uses would be restricted to industrial zones, the ordinance shows.
Staff writers Philip DeVencentis and Matthew Fagan contributed to this report.
David Zimmer is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.