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Keyport council members vote to prohibit cannabis businesses

KEYPORT – Borough Council members have adopted an ordinance that prohibits all cannabis businesses from operating in Keyport by amending the municipal code to establish cannabis businesses as prohibited uses in all zoning districts.

The ordinance states that municipal officials intend to lift the prohibition when they receive regulatory guidance from the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission that they deem adequate.

The Borough Council’s action follows the enactment of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, also known as A-21, which was passed by state legislators in February after a majority of New Jersey residents voted in November 2020 to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.

The legislation legalizes the recreational use (also known as adult use) of marijuana by certain adults; it decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and hashish (a marijuana concentrate); and it removes marijuana as a Schedule I (high potential for abuse) drug.

According to the Keyport ordinance, A-21 established six marketplace classes of licensed marijuana businesses: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.

As noted in the ordinance, the state legislation allows municipal officials to prohibit the operation of marijuana businesses within the town’s borders. The prohibition had to be adopted by Aug. 21, otherwise, marijuana businesses would have been permitted in the municipality for a five-year period.

According to the ordinance, the Borough Council prohibited the cannabis businesses due to uncertainties governing the licensing process at the state and local levels, and due to the limited amount of time they had to establish appropriate zoning regulations for a new class of commercial uses of property in Keyport.

The council members said they believed it was in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of residents to wait for guidance from the Cannabis Regulatory Commission before permitting such businesses, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance states that the governing body wishes to establish land use regulations and licensing standards for regulated cannabis businesses in Keyport upon receipt of adequate regulatory guidance.

The council’s action regarding cannabis businesses in town does not affect the legality of adult use marijuana by individuals over the age of 21 in Keyport, according to the ordinance.

By law, the council may not prohibit the delivery of cannabis and/or cannabis supplies to addresses in Keyport from a delivery service that is based in another municipality.

In a press release issued on Aug. 23, NORML, which advocates for changes in public policy “so the responsible possession and use of marijuana by adults is no longer subject to criminal penalties,” said two-thirds of cities and towns in New Jersey have elected not to permit licensed marijuana retailers.

NORML, which also advocates for a regulated commercial cannabis market, said officials in the municipalities who have chosen to opt out are free to reverse their position at any time.

According to the press release, “the initial citywide moratoriums apply to the licensing of brick-and-mortar retailers. New regulations just issued by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission forbid localities from imposing bans on marijuana delivery services.”

Commenting on the towns’ decisions, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “These moratoriums only serve to protect and prolong the illicit cannabis marketplace.

“Time and time again, we have seen that consumers prefer to obtain cannabis products from safe, licensed, above-ground retailers, but absent access to such facilities, the illicit market will continue to fill this void.

“Despite a mandate from their constituents, the majority of whom overwhelmingly voted in November 2020 to legalize adult use marijuana sales in New Jersey, many local officials remain hesitant of the notion of licensing these operations in their communities.

“The irony is that marijuana sales are already taking place in these communities right now. But rather than taking place in licensed, regulated establishments, they are occurring on street corners without any oversight and without any money generated from these sales filtered back into the community,” Armentano said.

Regulations place no statewide cap on the number of licensed retailers that will be permitted in New Jersey. Existing medical cannabis businesses are eligible to apply for approval to sell to the adult market. Retail cannabis sales are anticipated to begin within six months, according to the press release from NORML.

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