Whether one likes it or not, Cannabis is here with promises of additional rounds beyond this current round of 6 new vertical licenses that the State of New Jersey will soon be issuing. A question worth asking is whether New Jersey’s municipalities are prepared or not.
As a professional land use planner I have studied the issue of legalization of cannabis for some time now. My colleagues in those states that are ahead of NJ in implementation of this exciting new industry have shared a great deal of experience over the last several years. As an avid traveler to hiking and skiing destinations, my pursuits bring me to states that have allowed me to personally research the issue of legalization of marijuana in real time. From strip malls with several dispensaries located in them, to well-designed facilities that are beautifully designed, the experience runs the gamut. Some towns were prepared, while others were not. A mere drive through any of those communities and one can easily tell the difference.
I believe Governor Murphy is working diligently to position New Jersey for success. For all our sake, my hope is that quality medicinal licensing continues to result in enhanced research and development of new remedies that succeed where western medicine has failed.
I personally want to see the next “big pharma” company be born here in New Jersey as a result of this effort. And its possible!
While it will remain to be seen how the legislature implements recreational adult use, one issue that has not been addressed in any great detail is local land use and zoning. Other than ensuring potential operators gain local support as a critical component of this round’s expansion of medicinal licensing application, the regulations have been quiet on the issue. This is where the rubber meets the road and local municipalities need assistance in understanding what's at stake.
New Jersey’s communities do not have to be the victims of the whims of Trenton and how it choses to expand access to this seemingly Holy Grail of natural remedies. While some feel it is merely an effort aimed at bolstering our tax coffers, which it may to some politicos, the truth is that this is a tremendous opportunity to deepen our knowledge base of a plant that has so many benefits to society. Expanding this knowledge by honoring the great medicinal opportunity before us, both in how licenses are expanded and how the communities can utilize zoning as a means toward supporting this cause must be part of the process. .
Investment in land use planning is critical. As our communities as very much in control of this industries ability to expand, we must address site selection strategically and with care in order to maximize the economic gains that will result.
Control or no control, that is our local leaders number one concern. Communities out west have 5 years of experience in both categories. Planning and Zoning can be utilized to regulate this use in ways that the legislation has not contemplated, like better defining Alternative Treatment Centers and their ability to split their license into the categories of dispensing versus cultivation, manufacturing and research. While attempting to be respectful of our constituencies viewpoints on the topic, the public interface of point of sale, juxtaposed against cultivation, manufacturing and research can yield very different land use approaches.
Similarly to other uses that historically have seen discriminatory zoning practices over the years, such as strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and pawn shops, zoning can play a critical role in ensuring that regardless of whether your community wants it or not, you can thoughtfully guide this emerging market in meaningful ways that are well within your control.
L&G is poised to assist bring this emerging industry to its true potential to serve people and our economy - not merely taxable income to governmental coffers...