TRENTON – More than 63% of New Jersey municipalities have opted out of allowing recreational marijuana businesses within their borders, though it’s possible some will reconsider now that the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission has approved rules for the new industry.

Cities and towns have until Saturday to decide if they want to opt-out of allowing marijuana businesses. Those that don’t opt-out cannot for another five years. Those that do are allowed to reverse course at any time and allow such businesses.

An unofficial count by the New Jersey State League of Municipalities finds that 80% of the municipalities about which it has collected information have passed ordinances blocking marijuana businesses – with 360 that have opted out and 90 that have opted in. It doesn’t yet have information on 115 others.

Mike Cerra, executive director of the League of Municipalities, said it was challenging for localities that were facing the same timeline as the state regulatory commission, which just adopted industry rules Thursday.

“They’ve been looking at their options without really knowledge of what the regulations are going to look like ultimately,” Cerra said.

“Many towns have opted out,” he said. “And there’s a group of those who are not necessarily opposed to cannabis or cannabis establishments in the community. They just want to look at the regulations first before they figure out how they’re going to craft ordinances. So, they have essentially given themselves an extension by opting out.”

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Cerra said it would be better to check a year from now on the progress of the industry, once the regulations have been available and perhaps fine-tuned.

“This is an industry that’s going to take some time to mature,” Cerra said. “And some of the towns that are opting out are likely to reconsider. There are some obviously that are firm in their position, but there are others who are based on those regulations may revisit it six months or a year from now.”

Bill Caruso, who heads the cannabis law group at Archer Law and was a founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said the large number of municipalities opting out was to be expected, “given the lack of official guidance at this point and overlapping deadlines.”

“I think you’re going to see a large amount of those towns that opted out opt in in the coming weeks now, post hopefully clarity from this commission,” Caruso said. “… I think there are going to be a significant amount of new ordinances redrafted in the September, October range. Folks that are looking for licenses are going to have some clarity on where they can be or where they can’t be.”

Caruso said some municipalities are holding off as they await information about issues such as their regulatory responsibilities and input, the fees that are allowed beyond a 2% transfer tax and what is allowed at consumption lounges.

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Of the 90 municipalities that have already opted in, Caruso said some did so because they’ve had good experience with the 12 medical marijuana dispensary operators and others have designated areas such as industrial parks where they want to encourage growing and processing.

“Other towns are absolutely headstrong about developing retail and attracting into certain areas retail and the traffic that will come along with those retail efforts,” Caruso said. “So, those towns I think have been the frontier folks to go out there and do that.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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