When Legal Is Not So Legal

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January 2, 2019
Noelle Skodzinski
© Joe Skodzinski

New Jersey, my home state, is on the verge of legalizing recreational cannabis. On Nov. 26, New Jersey’s legislators advanced an adult-use cannabis legalization bill through the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and Assembly Budget Committee, sending it to the Senate and Assembly for full votes. By the time we publish our January/February issue, I hope New Jersey will be the 11th state to legalize adult-use. (Editor's note: New Jersey lawmakers ultimately did not vote on the bill on the last day of their session.)

While legalization is exciting, it doesn’t mean it isn’t without challenges. Legalization doesn’t always make cannabis legal. For example, state policies often include opt-out clauses for municipalities, or local moratoriums can be put in place to allow further review of legal cannabis sales or refinement of local regulations. In New Jersey, the draft legalization bill allows local governments to enact ordinances to ban marijuana businesses and for municipalities to revisit bans and moratoriums every five years.

From a community perspective, banning cannabis businesses can be beneficial if the citizens don’t support legalization or don’t want cannabis businesses there. The five-year review can be beneficial too, since legalization is still relatively new and its impacts are under watchful eye.

However, municipalities’ ability to opt out or set moratoriums to hold off potential local cannabis businesses can be a tremendous challenge for cannabis business owners.

And many municipalities do opt out. In California: “Fewer than one in three … cities (144 out of 482) allow ... cannabis business[es] to operate in their borders. And just 18 of the state’s 58 counties [also less than a third] permit cannabis businesses in their unincorporated areas,” according to The Orange County Register, reporting in April on a study by its parent company, Southern California News Group, and other Digital First newspapers. “Also, fewer than one in five California cities welcome medical marijuana dispensaries, while fewer than one in seven allow recreational cannabis stores,” the report continued.

In Oregon, 80 cities (out of more than 350, or 23 percent) and 16 counties (out of 36, or 44 percent) have prohibited recreational cannabis businesses, according to a June report by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

In Washington state, 78 (out of 228, or 34 percent of) cities and seven (out of 39, or 18 percent of) counties have prohibited state-licensed marijuana businesses, according to the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center.

If you hold a license and have opened your doors, you deserve an enormous round of applause. It’s a tremendous feat when you look at all the obstacles you have overcome and the ones remaining in front of you.

But for those facing bans or moratoriums, the Guest Column in this issue offers tips on how to fight back.

There are many great tips—81 in fact—in this annual “Tips Issue,” which we compiled to help you with many of those obstacles you face, from navigating daunting HR issues to successfully finding your way through a merger or acquisition to creating an effective brand voice. The easy-to-digest tips format makes for a quick read to help you start the coming year armed with practical information to help you succeed.

Noelle Skodzinski, Editorial Director | nskodzinski@gie.net