This is the first of two parts looking at issues regarding zoning, planning and the cannabis industry.
For municipalities in New Jersey, it’s not just a matter of yes or no when it comes to deciding whether to allow marijuana businesses in their town.
It’s also where and potentially how many.
It’s an issue that involves planning and zoning, according to Charles Latini Jr., president of the American Planning Association New Jersey Chapter (APA-NJ).
“Obviously from a land use and development perspective, and this is my experience visiting towns out West, some towns have done this better than others,” says Latini, who will be a panelist at the inaugural NJ Cannabis Summit Oct. 24. “Local planning and zoning can really lend a credible direction on how those towns can benefit from the economic activity that then surrounds it.”
The recent application process for the six new alternative treatment centers – the first additions to the state’s medical marijuana programs since the initial six locations were allocated in 2011 – gave cities and towns a taste of what to expect and consider as the medical program expands and adult-use legislation is considered.
For some municipalities that means looking at their master plan, for others it’s applying current principals and practices to these potential establishments.
“Some are finding that generally this is consistent with their plans because when you boil it down, you have to deal with the specific use category within the zoning itself,” says Latini, a land use planner and design professional and principal owner of Latini & Gleitz Planning. “But when you boil the the use down, the two main components are the public retail component which in our minds is akin to a pharmacy or an urgent care facility. The cultivation and manufacturing part, you have agricultural issues and and just the general processing and industrial-type use category that goes with it.
“So I’m not saying that there’s much in need of true prying open your entire master plan to address this but I think they can handle it through making those relationships with existing use categories that they have and just calling it out specifically.”
What Latini urges towns to focus on is the planning portion of the zoning.
Careful placement is paramount – make sure “you don’t end up with multiple dispensaries next to one another as I’ve seen in other towns out West and ensuring that they’re situated in what I believe is the right location.”
The nature of the cannabis industry – particularly the dispensaries, which are a cash-heavy business – means they shouldn’t be located in what Latini calls “the back corners” of a town’s industrial area.
Why? So they’re not in locations that require extra effort to get law enforcement there “in support of or just keeping a general eye on things.”
The approach Latini has some of his clients take – particularly with the medical marijuana facilities – is meeting with every one of the potential applicants who need letters of support and zoning approval from the towns.
“And they’re really talking about how they’re going to grow the research and development side of things,” he says. “Then you end up with the potential to really tap into something that’s beyond just the product itself. It then has spinoffs of other entities whether it eventually becomes other research and development type businesses or other types of manufacturers who might be dealing with products that want to be located in that general region, spurring additional revitalization and economic growth.”
Next week: Setbacks, medical vs. recreation and potential issues when towns say no.