To facilitate patient access and impact a community in need of jobs and economic stimulus, Ken Vande Vrede set his sights on Paterson for the location of his medical marijuana dispensary.To facilitate patient access and impact a community in need of jobs and economic stimulus, Ken Vande Vrede set his sights on Paterson for the location of his medical marijuana dispensary.
Using Google Maps as their tool, Vande Vrede’s HillViewMed team located every school in town and drew a circle around them, indicating the areas precluded by current regulations that don’t permit medical marijuana facilities within 1,000 feet of a drug-free school zone.
The team then went out and knocked on door after door in search of businesses interested in leasing space to them. When they were done, they were left with two possible locations — until the landlord of one backed out.
What if their last-ditch effort, knocking on doors and asking building owners face-to-face, didn’t lead to any viable real estate?
“We would have been out,” Vande Vrede said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult getting a facility 1,000 feet from a drug-free school zone is, especially in North Jersey.”
According to Lee Vartan, head of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC’s cannabis law practice, the so-called 1,000-foot rule not only made it hard for applicants interested in getting into the cannabis business, it actually forced some to stop pursuing their applications to operate alternative treatment centers.
“We had one client who would have proceeded with their application but they withdrew when they were unable to find suitable property that conformed to the 1,000-foot rule,” said Vartan. “From our perspective here it actually led to fewer applications this past round for ATCs in New Jersey. For other clients, we were struggling to find suitable property.”
The adult use and medicinal cannabis bills now making their way through the Legislature have no mention of the limitation.
A representative for Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, said it’s to give municipalities the chance to decide for themselves where cannabis businesses should and shouldn’t be. Scutari is a sponsor of Senate Bill 2703, a measure to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana use.
Cannabis lawyers such as Vartan and Victor Herlinsky of Sills Cummis & Gross PC say eliminating the provision will make the market more inclusive of densely populated urban areas.
“In the first two rounds, the 1,000-foot rule has caused most of the applications and currently all the licenses to be outside of any of the major cities,” said Herlinsky. “This has caused cannabis jobs to be in the suburbs, not in the cities. [Enabling municipalities to decide] will allow the cities to compete with the suburbs for the location of both cultivation and distribution sites.”
Dianna Houenou, policy counsel for American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, a steering committee member for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, said changing the 1,000-foot rule to something less limiting will have a profound effect on social equity.
“If municipalities are allowed to craft their own parameters that don’t overly restrict where cannabis businesses can be located, that would be a tremendous advancement in the subject matter when it comes to urban areas,” she said.
Some municipalities, she pointed out, don’t have any space that’s not within 1,000 feet of a drug-free school zone.
“We think New Jersey communities should have economic opportunities and when we build a cannabis industry in New Jersey, there is room for all communities to be involved here,” Houenou said. “We want to make sure the cannabis industry reflects the diversity of the Garden State in terms of where they’re geographically located and in terms of who owns and works at them.”
Herlinksy reflected Houenou’s sentiments.
“There is a very good equitable argument that cities should derive the benefit of legalization because they by and large bear the brunt of the costs of legal prohibition of drugs, especially marijuana,” he said.
Tara Sargente, part-owner of Applied Cannabis Sciences of New Jersey, which also applied for an ATC license in a densely populated area, said the 1,000-foot rule made locating a suitable facility extremely difficult for her team.
“If we are agreeing cannabis is not an illegal drug [and] that it is indeed medicine, then the zoning should be the same as it is for pharmacies,” she said. “Additionally, when the time comes and the state confirms that cannabis is safe for adult use, businesses should be able to operate [under the same zoning regulations] as a bar or liquor store. Every single patron is checked for valid ID (21 and over) and compliance is taken very seriously.”
While some municipalities like Florham Park and Freehold have already approved resolutions prohibiting marijuana sales within their limits, some city leaders have been vocal about their interest in the cannabis space.
Mayors Steven Fulop of Jersey City and Ras Baraka of Newark penned a joint article in The Star Ledger last month emphasizing that cannabis jobs must come to their cities.
For that to happen, Herlinksy said relaxation of the rule is critical.
“The relaxation of the 1,000-foot rule will open up most of our cities to the economic development associated with the cannabis industry,” he said. “Up until now, our urban centers have not been able to fully engage in the cannabis industry. These reforms will allow them to do so.”