Cannabis businesses – from retail sales to the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, wholesaling and delivery of cannabis – would be permitted to operate in selected areas of Lawrence Township, under an ordinance introduced by the Lawrence Township Council.
The ordinance was introduced at the Lawrence Township Council’s June 15 meeting. The council sought to get ahead of the Aug. 21 deadline to act, imposed by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act.
A public hearing on the ordinance is set for the Lawrence Township Council’s July 20 meeting.
If a town does not take action by the Aug. 21 deadline, cannabis businesses would be allowed to operate in all industrial zones. The retail sale of cannabis would be permitted as a conditional use in all commercial and retail zones for the next five years.
At the end of the five-year period, a town would have six months to adopt an ordinance to regulate or ban the businesses. However, it would not apply to businesses already operating in the town.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing adult-use of marijuana for recreational purposes in a statewide referendum in November 2020 by a vote of 2.7 million votes to 1.3 million votes. It was legalized for adults over 21 years old.
The ordinance introduced by the Lawrence Township Council permits the retail sale of cannabis (marijuana) and delivery service business in the Regional Commercial and Highway Commercial zones – but limits the number of licensed recreational cannabis retail stores to a total of two.
There is an exemption to the limit of retail stores that applies to “any currently licensed medical marijuana operator” in the township. Zen Leaf, which is a medical marijuana business, opened on Route 1 recently. With that exemption, there could be as many as three retail stores if Zen Leaf becomes a licensed recreational cannabis retailer.
The Quaker Bridge Mall is in the Regional Commercial zone. If the mall owner allows it, cannabis retailers and delivery services may open at the mall, which is on Route 1 at the corner of Quakerbridge Road.
Likewise, cannabis retailers and delivery services are restricted to storefront areas along Route 1 in the Highway Commercial zone, between Quakerbridge Road and Franklin Corner Road. This includes the Mercer Mall.
Cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors are allowed to operate in the Mixed Use-2, Mixed Use-3 and Limited Industrial-1 zones. The MX-2 zone is on Bakers Basin Road and the MX-3 zone is on Princess Road. The LI-1 zone is on Quakerbridge Road.
Cannabis cultivators grow and cultivate cannabis, and cannabis manufacturers are businesses that manufacture, prepare and package cannabis items. Cannabis wholesale businesses obtain and sell cannabis items for re-sale by other businesses.
Cannabis distributors move cannabis plants in bulk from one licensed cultivator to another licensed cannabis cultivator, as well as cannabis items in bulk from one licensed cannabis business to another.
Finally, cannabis delivery services bring cannabis items to a consumer who purchased them directly through the delivery service. The order would be processed by a retailer and delivered to the customer.
Under state law, an ordinance is limited to either prohibiting some or all cannabis businesses from operating in the town or restricting them to certain areas within the town, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said.
“The ordinance is not supposed to – nor may it encompass – ‘use’ issues, such as where people are allowed to use cannabis,” Nerwinski said.
Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis was supportive of the ordinance.
“This is something we have been working toward for a long time. I think it is a wonderful opportunity. It is a wonderful first step,” Lewis said.
Mayor Jim Kownacki agreed. The council made the right decision to introduce an ordinance that controls the location of cannabis businesses and related operations, he said.
If the township does not adopt an ordinance, “they could go anywhere” in Lawrence, Kownacki said.
Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt said “change is a scary thing.”
“It is new to all of us. We want to do it (allow cannabis businesses and operations) in the most responsible way,” Bobbitt said.