More than 70 percent of New Jersey municipalities have banned marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction, despite an overwhelming majority of voters approving a ballot measure to legalize recreational sales in the state.

New Jersey’s legislature passed a legalization bill earlier this year to put the measure into effect, which was then signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy. The legislation included an August 22 deadline by which municipalities could decide to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses in their area.

The large share of jurisdictions – around 400 municipalities across New Jersey – which have taken up this option may give cause for concern to marijuana reform advocates, but many stakeholders and elected officials claim the decision to enact a ban is a temporary move so they have more time to establish local rules for cannabis businesses.

“I fought hard for cannabis legalization in New Jersey, but in the past couple of months I have recommended that municipalities ‘opt out’ of allowing dispensaries as a temporary measure, unless they were ready to approve a specific dispensary before the ‘opt out’ deadline last week,” said David Nathan, founder of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation. “That’s because towns that opt in cannot opt out for several years, but towns that opt out can reverse their decision at any time.”

Camden City Council is one such municipality that voted against allowing marijuana businesses, but the chair of the committee which issued the recommendation is adamant it’s a pragmatic move designed to benefit the legal industry in the long-run.

“It’s more like a pause on having the industry in the city, particularly to give us control over the industry in Camden,” said Nichelle Pace to WHYY in June. “It gives us a chance to have a road map and put in best recommendations for policies and procedures.”

The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU is concerned, however, that many city councils are instituting a ban due to “old stigmas rooted in fear, not reality.”

“With 67 percent of New Jersey voters saying yes to legalizing cannabis and passage in all but three of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities, the municipalities that have opted out have unfortunately missed an opportunity to carry out the will of the voters,” said ACLU New Jersey’s Joe Johnson. “We hope for the sake of New Jerseyans that these municipalities take advantage of their freedom to reverse their initial decision and choose to opt in.”

The mayors of Paterson and Englewood decided to veto city council resolutions to ban marijuana businesses, even as a temporary move. Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh (D) said such a ban would entail a “significant risk of being last to the market with an inability to meaningfully take advantage of the legal, social, and economic opportunities legal cannabis provides.”

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (NJCRC) released its initial set of regulations for the state’s legal cannabis market, as reported by the New Jersey Herald. While it contains few surprises, cannabis reform advocates will be disappointed that in keeping with the legalization bill signed into law, home cultivation will not be permitted and municipalities can continue to prohibit marijuana businesses in their jurisdiction.

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