Recreational marijuana use remains a contentious discussion point across the country, as it has been legalized in nine states, but still remains illegal in New Jersey. It’s also technically illegal under federal law.
However, since the election of Gov. Phil Murphy – an advocate of legalization – last year, officials have been gearing up for the drug’s legalization, should it happen. Some local towns, like Secaucus (which has a legal dispensary for medical marijuana) have passed ordinances to clarify whether the substance can be sold or grown within the town’s borders.
Those who support legalization feel the drug is relatively harmless and a potential source of revenue. Opponents worry that it will be a gateway to harder drugs, and that people may use it before driving.
Medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010, although it has to be purchased at dispensaries, of which there are only six in the state.
Will people come from NY to get it?
Some Hudson County towns worry that if it remains illegal in New York and legal here, a flood of Manhattanites will take trains or ferries here to get it.
Due to its proximity to the Lincoln Tunnel, the city of Weehawken has been bombarded with requests about setting up recreational marijuana dispensaries.
“We have received inquiries to convert liquor stores, convenience stores, homes, and vacant land into marijuana dispensaries and “smoking lounges” throughout the Township,” wrote Mayor Richard Turner in a letter to residents this past spring.
As a result, the township amended its zoning laws in March to ban the commercial sale, growth, distribution, and use of marijuana in retail/commercial establishments. Exceptions will be considered for entrepreneurs who apply for use variances, which are the toughest to acquire, Turner said.
The regulations will not disallow people from smoking recreationally, however.
In states that have legalized recreational use, people are only allowed to carry 1 ounce.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Union City, officials are also being careful.
On Feb. 13, the Board of Commissioners voted to adopt an ordinance banning any facilities that cultivate, manufacture test, or sell marijuana at all.
According to that ordinance, the mandate was passed “for the preservation of the public health, safety and welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants.” It adds that “the city has determined that businesses that sell and distribute medicinal and recreational marijuana require special concern for security.”
But as with Weehawken, it would not stop people from smoking recreationally.
But in the hipster towns…
Jersey City went as far as to make its own rules about those charged criminally with marijuana possession.
In July, the city became the first in the state to virtually decriminalize marijuana possession, ordering municipal prosecutors not to prosecute people possessing small quantities.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Mayor Steven Fulop argued that giving people criminal records for marijuana possession can unfairly impede their ability to gain employment. Additionally, minorities are unfairly targeted, he added.
That decision didn’t sit well with State A.G. Gurbir Grewal, who sent a letter to Jersey City shortly thereafter, telling them that they did not have the legal authority to decriminalize marijuana or refuse to prosecute marijuana-related cases.
After some back and forth, on Aug. 29, Grewal released new statewide guidelines, saying that municipal prosecutors cannot adopt policies to decriminalize marijuana. However, they can exercise “discretion” on a case-by-case basis. The new guidelines state that “specific circumstances or factors presented by the defendant or elicited by the court,” could warrant dismissed charges, which is true of other small-time crimes.
Jersey City Municipal Prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who pushed for the changes, said New Jersey is the second highest state for marijuana arrests in the country, and enforcing arrests for possession costs the state $1 billion every 10 years.
In a Tweet Fulop sent out in May, in which he shared an article about Murphy and whether he ever smoked marijuana, he wrote, “I don’t understand why politicians are always so cagey on this. It is what it is + you are who you are – no big deal. 1) I’m for legalization 2) social justice is important to me as well 3) I used to smoke tons of weed (ok maybe not tons since we are talking about quantities).”
Next door, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla has agreed with the Fulop administration about drug arrests targeting minorities disproportionately.
According to city spokesman Santiago Melli-Huber, the municipality is currently working on drafting an amendment to its zoning code that would address the distribution, growing, testing, and selling of marijuana.
“Passing a comprehensive ordinance now will allow the city to easily adapt to the changes in legislation made at the state level,” Melli-Huber said, via email. “The city looks forward to a time in which the use of marijuana is decriminalized.”
“As a civil rights attorney, I view this from the lens of criminal justice reform.” – Ravi Bhalla
“As a civil rights attorney, I view this from the lens of criminal justice reform,” Bhalla told the Hoboken Reporterin April. “Black and Hispanic residents are disproportionately targeted at a high rate for minor infractions compared to the rest of the population. Disproportionate arrests of minorities in Hoboken for minor personal marijuana usage is both discriminatory and a major waste of police resources that would be better spent on real crimes.”
If recreational marijuana becomes legalized in New Jersey, you’ll be able to smoke it in Secaucus. But you won’t be able to sell it in any manner. At the Sept. 11 mayor and Council meeting, the town voted for a zoning ordinance that will ban anyone from growing, processing, distributing, or selling recreational marijuana there.
Unlike most Hudson County towns, Secaucus has a heavily conservative population, which might not take favorably to any recreational marijuana dispensaries opening in town.
However, Secaucus is the only town in Hudson County to host a dispensary, the Harmony Foundation.
West New York, Bayonne, and North Bergen have not introduced zoning changes or policies addressing recreational marijuana as of yet.