Before the state Legislature even starts debating legalizing adult-use marijuana, let alone approve it, around 35 municipalities have adopted local laws barring pot shops within their borders.

Legalization opponents such as Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen Reid, executive director of New Jersey-Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, say it’s just the start and that lots more towns have ordinances drawn up.

“They’re ready to go, but they’re going to look at the law first, and if it does get passed they’re going to be approving these ordinances in droves,” Reid said.

Reid said local officials worry about the message to youth, driving under the influence and the encouraging black-market sales of marijuana, which would remain lower-priced than what will be sold in highly regulated, state-sanctioned stores.

“The more towns, mayors and councils of towns, find out what the Legislature and governor are trying to do and pass and put in their towns, the more they say no to it.”

Bill Caruso, a member of the steering committee for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said some of the ordinances restrict retail locations but would welcome medical ones. He said people interested in entering the marijuana industry aren’t concerned they wouldn’t find places to locate.

“Three dozen out of 560 – God bless our state – plus municipalities, I don’t see as a panic,” Caruso said. “I see it as an interesting discussion about what we need to be doing. Nor do I see a trend.”

Caruso said some mayors are writing letters of support for some of the roughly 200 applications that are expected to be submitted by groups seeking to open up to six additional medicinal marijuana facilities in the state. The application deadline is Friday.

Legislative leaders have discussed allowing cities and towns to charge a local tax on marijuana sales, which Caruso said “will be a game changer to some extent” in getting more mayors on board. The proposed excise tax is 2 percent, Politico reported.

“Let’s face it: Municipalities have lost faith in Trenton about this idea that, OK, you’re going to tax at the local level and then redistribute it down back to us. Sure you are,” Caruso said.

“There are municipalities out there, and it’s becoming a growing chorus, that are really looking and saying: How is this money going to flow back? What’s going to happen with the training of drug recognition officers that will benefit our town? What’s going to happen to reinvestment? What’s going to happen to public education? Where is that money going to flow?” he said.

Reid said towns do not see marijuana legalization as an economic game changer.

“Mayors and council members throughout the state see that it’s not about the money,” Reid said. “I know that the governor and Legislature, to them it’s all about the money.”

Despite opposition by some towns, Caruso said he expects there will be a diverse list of municipalities not only tolerant but welcoming of marijuana facilities, including retail.

“I don’t think anyone has an intent of jamming this down on the towns. We’re a home-rule state. We recognize that,” Caruso said. “I don’t think that they’re going to force this. I don’t think that they need to force it.”

Hearings and a vote on marijuana legalization could happen over the next month.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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