NJ marijuana legalization: Want to sell recreational pot? Grow weed? Not in Carlstadt

Meghan Grant
Rows of marijuana plants grow at a cultivation facility in Alaska, which legalized the sale of the drug in 2014.

CARLSTADT — The borough intends to preemptively ban the sale or cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes, potentially setting up a clash with a state agency over zoning authority in its Meadowlands section.

Other Bergen County municipalties have reacted to Gov. Phil Murphy’s public support for marijuana legalization, and growing public support, by approving regulations. 

  • Mahwah and Oakland have introduced ordinances to prohibit retail marijuana
  • Maywood seeks to designate a specific zone
  • Wallington intends to ban both medicinal and recreational marijuana businesses

Garfield and Hasbrouck Heights have already prohibited the sale of marijuana in their municipalities, and Ramsey has created a designated zone.

Carlstadt Mayor Craig Lahullier says a borough ordinance targets recreational use.

Mayor Craig Lahullier during the April council meeting.

“We aren’t against medical use. If a company comes in and wants to do a warehouse, as long as they follow the law, we’re not going to fight that,” Lahullier said.

“When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and federal law says it’s a no-no, it’s a no-no," Lahullier said. "I’m not going to allow marijuana shops to open up in our borough.”

Gov. Phil Murphy expanded the state’s medical marijuana program in March by adding medical conditions that qualify, allowing for more patients to be eligible.

Citing “potential state legislation” to legalize marijuana/cannabis, Carlstadt's governing body wants to ensure that such activities are not permitted in close proximity to schools, churches or playgrounds, or any commercial or residential zones, its ordinance reads. It explicitly exempts industrial hemp.

Approving a ban is an individual town’s prerogative, however premature, said Juan Carlos Negrin, president of the New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

“It is shortsightedness. They move forward on building walls before they’ve even seen the legislation out of the houses yet,” Negrin said.

Through a redevelopment specialist it hired, Carlstadt is marketing its Meadowlands section of town as ideal for warehousing in general.

North Jersey towns in proximity to New York City would be a “great fit” for grow and retail facilities, Negrin said.

“We’ve met with mayors that are redeveloping some of their more run-down areas, and to see if this would be a fit for them. They are waiting before zoning anything, to see bills and how it is going to look. They are waiting to take some of these forgotten areas in their municipalities and make them viable again,” Negrin said.

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He declined to identify which towns, as the discussions were informal.

The New Jersey Marijuana Retailers Association was created to deal directly with the public on behalf of the retail end of the industry and encourage responsible practices, Negrin said.

The group recently sent a letter to every municipality to open a dialogue about how retailers could work with local governments.

What makes Carlstadt unique is that, along with 13 other municipalities, the borough shares zoning authority with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which has taken over the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

“There is no pending application before the NJSEA, and it would be premature to comment at this time before the NJSEA staff and board completed any review process,” said authority spokesman Brian Aberback.

The state agency superseded the borough’s desire to zone for content once before.

After creating an adult entertainment zone within the borough in the late 1990s, Carlstadt officials padlocked the doors of an adult video store that opened outside the zone on Washington Avenue. 

Lahullier said allowing medicinal marijuana demonstrates the Carlstadt government's willingness to compromise.

“We are not outright banning it, but we are putting some regulations on it — no recreational, medical only — and it’s going to be where we say it’s going to be,” Lahullier said.

Nicholas Scutari, D-Linden, has introduced a bill seeking to legalize marijuana for people over age 21. Should Scutari's bill become law, whatever local zoning authority was in place before passage would be maintained.

Scutari's bill would also allow towns to prohibit marijuana operations.

“I think they [towns] should ban alcohol, too, if they want to be consistent,” Scutari said, adding that such ordinances are premature at this point. “Doing this just distracts them from the job they should be doing: stabilizing local taxes, sealing potholes, and ensuring that there is open space for their constituents.”

Carlstadt cites safety as its reason for banning retail sales of marijuana.

“There is no area of the borough which can safely house a business cultivating, manufacturing, warehousing, distributing or selling marijuana (cannabis) and/or the paraphernalia that facilitates the use of such marijuana (cannabis) for recreational use,” the ordinance reads.

Negrin disagreed with the idea that these types of businesses are inherently dangerous.

“If you look at the other eight states and the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational, adult-use cannabis marijuana, they haven’t gone to lawlessness, where people are getting robbed and shot,” Negrin said. “Many municipalities will buy into the fear and misbeliefs of how cannabis marijuana affects people, and its use, and how it’s going to be sold. There are a tremendous amount of checks and balances.”

Law enforcement officials have raised concerns about enforcement and how to test for impaired driving.

With possible legalization on the horizon, the New Jersey League of Municipalities set up a 40-member task force of mayors, administrators, council members, land-use attorneys and health officials to examine the potential impact. Appropriate locations for stores, zoning implications, additional costs for police departments and testing for impaired driving are among the issues on the task force's agenda.

As for the Meadowlands, league spokesman Frank Marshall said the task force is examining statewide implications.

“The task force is not taking a specific approach,” he said.

A public hearing and final vote on Carlstadt’s ordinance is scheduled for May 3.