The NJ Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA) hosted an NJ cannabis town law webinar featuring the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC).
The NJ Cannabis Trade Association is made up of licensed New Jersey cannabis companies.
“The big sea change that we saw under CREAMMA, the adult use law was this shift uh in authority in the licensing process to the local level,” NJCTA Counsel Mike McQueeny noted.
He said they want to help social equity and minority-owned businesses.
NJCRC Director of Government Affairs Jesus Alcazar has been working on the issue.
“What is required of an applicant with regard to municipal approvals for the state application process?” McQueeny asked.
Alcazar noted the conditional licensing process is simple since you do not need real estate or local approval. He said cannabis companies need a city council resolution with a location to open their doors.
NJCRC’s Limited Authority on Town Cannabis Process
“The towns have full authority over what locations are permissible,” Alcazar said.
The second item needed is Zoning Board or Planning Board approval ensuring it is in the limited “Green Zone” where cannabis companies can be based. The third item needed is a letter from the landlord ensuring your location is secured.
“Not every town is open for cannabis. The discretion that towns have built into that can be some of the more complicating factors. What are some of the most common questions you get?” McQueeny asked.
“Sometimes the towns are surprised with how much control and authority they ultimately have,” Alcazar explained.
He noted the NJCRC gets many distance questions and permittable hours questions.
“That authority rests solely with the municipality,” Alcazar declared.
“A cannabis business within your borders will be the most highly regulated business. It literally has cameras in every corner of that facility where the CRC is watching,” McQueeny said. “What resources does the CRC have available for towns and applicants?”
“Municipalities determine the local processes. It’s really about engaging the municipality directly. The CRC does not have any jurisdiction, any oversight. Or any involvement,” Alcazar said.
The process is very political. Engaging towns involves lobbying politicians.
Alcazar explained he often goes to towns to speak with attorneys, police chiefs, and councilmembers representing the NJCRC.
“This is a wonderful industry. We have to make this process easy for applicants to get involved. This is absolutely something you want in your community,” he said.
“Misconception and misinformation… is usually the biggest impediment,” McQueeny said.
He noted the issue of a daycare where usually illiterate toddlers are by a facility they cannot enter. But many people are wary of cannabis companies near them as if they were vicious drug dealers.
Plainfield’s NJ Town Cannabis Law
“Plainfield has been praised for how it has been regulating cannabis in the city by the CRC. Can you give us a sense of the types of priorities the city had in mind?” McQueeny asked.
“We want to make sure it’s clear and concise,” said Zenobia Fields. She is the Head of Economic Development in Plainfield in Union County.
Fields noted they have a clear process. A dedicated official examines business plans, location, and the ability to run a business, including financial solvency.
“We’re looking to promote a thriving industry. Not just a one-off,” she said. “We’re very clear it goes through the Department of Economic Development.”
Fields noted they have a thorough vetting process.
Promoting Local Minority, Women Owned Cannabis Companies
“We talk about how we’re balancing the equity issues. How are we promoting disadvantaged businesses? We are looking, one at that, you are led by a disadvantaged women, minority ownership. Are you also looking to have some form of local ownership eventually,” Fields explained.
She noted that at least 30 percent or three employees have to be locals. They also want companies to do business with locals.
“We make sure 25 percent of those (suppliers) are local. We currently have four businesses that are looking at cultivation and manufacturing. This is a great opportunity to reinvigorate our manufacturing,” Fields said. “We anticipate this will bring hundreds of jobs.”
She said they held a cannabis career fair where companies looked for workers, including white-collar professionals.
“We’re also looking at equity issues for our local residents,” Fields said.
McQueeny recommended Plainfield’s ordinance as a model.
“It is revitalizing our advanced manufacturing industry. You’re looking at these vacant warehouses that are a blight. It gives us an opportunity to activate our retail spaces that were once vacant,” Fields said. “In July, we hope to open our first retail facility. By the end of year, we’re going to have the first manufacturing and cult businesses open.”
McQueeny noted many towns only allow them on highways versus their central business district like Plainfield.
Community Outreach and Planning in Ewing
McQueeny explained Planner Chuck Latini has been working with Ewing in Mercer County.
“Can you give us a sense… what priorities Ewing had? McQueeny asked.
Latini explained he works for both towns and operators in other towns. He is the American Planning Association President and a part of the Cannabis Advisory Group, which has been advising towns. Latini noted he has been speaking with Ewing council members to persuade them to support NJ adult use cannabis legalization implementation.
“Our priorities are about folks who honor the medicine. We want our operators to have a direct connection to the community or surrounding region,” he said. “Our focus, though, is getting folks to recognize how the community will benefit.”
Latini noted they ask NJ cannabis company applicants to reach out to the community, including faith leaders, activists, and groups like Black Cannabis and the NAACP.
“Communities like Ewing are supportive of equity initiatives. But that gets lost if you can’t have a direct and local connection,” he said.
“Is there anything the city has learned… having opted in?” McQueeny asked.
Latini noted the NJ cannabis town law process is generally hard for businesses to navigate in New Jersey.
“Home rule is strong,” he declared.
Latini explained hiring professionals helps along with having real estate experience.
“I have seen towns stretch the bounds of reasonableness,” he added.
Latini noted it could be a long process. He said some processes cost tens of thousands of dollars to apply with a great deal of red tape.
“Until it goes legal federally, we’re really going to continue to see discriminatory zoning processes,” Latini said.
“It’s new for them as well. They’re trying to wrap their heads around it,” McQueeny said. “I can never point to a model ordinance because… it’s gotta be tailored to the individual needs of your town.”
If a model New Jersey cannabis town ordinance had existed in 2021 to tailor, it would have solved many problems.
McQueeny noted state agencies and commissions might be a problem along with the city planning board, council, and mayor.
“We have 564 or 5 municipalities in the state. All governed by different forms of governing bodies,” Latini explained.
He noted the process of putting together a plan to get planning board approval takes processionals and placating agencies like the County Planning Board if you’re on a county road. He explained code compliance can be complicated.
McQueeny noted that being the first cannabis company to get approved can be difficult and involves a great deal of education.
“At times, it’s a square peg in the round hole,” he said.
NJ Cannabis Trade Association Executive Director Todd Johnson
McQueeny noted NJ Cannabis Trade Association Executive Director Todd Johnson previously ran Bloc, formerly Justice Grown. Now he has his own cannabis company.
“What are some of the unexpected issues?” McQueeny asked.
Johnson noted the need to educate oneself on the rules and nature of the town.
“Is there a specific community aspect? What is it that the municipality you’re going into cares about? he asked rhetorically.
Johnson noted there are a limited number of local options due to caps.
McQueeny noted that NJ town cannabis town law often requires cannabis companies to notify those within 200 feet of their plans which requires a community outreach plan.
“Understand who you’re speaking with and what their knowledge is,” Johnson said.
Not enough NJ town cannabis law officials are reading Heady NJ to learn about the industry.
Getting Through the Local Obstacle Course
“What resources should I be looking for… on site selection?” McQueeny asked.
Johnson noted some towns have zoning maps for the Green Zone. He suggested asking town officials what areas would be best.
“There are a number of minefields you want to avoid when picking a site. Our cultivation facility at Justice was in a flood plain,” he said.
“When you run a business, you have to be that jack of all trades. You gotta surround yourself with professionals,” McQueeny said.
“The hardest thing to find in cannabis is capital,” he added.