BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Marijuana's use by adults and regulated cultivation are now legal in New Jersey, but two new laws approved by the Bernards Township Committee prohibit both pot use in public and new cannabis businesses from setting up shop locally. 

After hearing support for the two ordinances expressed by local adults and teens, Bernards Township officials approved separate ordinances: one prohibits the use or consumption of any form of marijuana in public places, and a second prevents the establishment of local businesses to cultivate and to sell cannabis.

The May 25 vote to give final approval to both laws followed months of public discussion, and a review by the township Planning Board.

Mayor Janice Fields said the bans imposed were "not taken lightly."

"Our community and children do not benefit in any way from the sale of cannabis," Fields said.

"I am concerned about easier access for children and young adults," resident Jennifer Asay said during the public comment portion of the meeting. Use of the substance can worsen mental health, she said

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While the state law would allow adults over 21 to purchase marijuana for private use, Asay said she would not be in favor of licensing any cannabis operation within Bernards Township.

Ridge freshman Rohan Panjwani agreed. "Imagine if you have a marijuana cultivator next to a bagel shop." Among other concerns, he said that new studies indicate that secondhand marijuana smoke might be more hazardous to others than secondhand cigarette smoke.

The first ordinance allows fines or civil penalties to be imposed by a municipal judge for the public smoking, vaping, or aerosolizing of cannabis items in public places.

'Public places' defined

Public places are defined in the ordinance as “any place to which the public has access that is not privately owned; or any place to which the public has access where alcohol consumption is not allowed, including, but not limited to, a public street, road, thoroughfare, sidewalk, bridge, alley, plaza, park, playground, swimming pool, shopping area, public transportation facility, vehicle used for public transportation, parking lot, public library, or any other public building, structure, or area.”  

With the concern expressed that obtaining marijuana might be as easy as alcohol to obtain for underage drinkers, the ordinance specified, "No person or group shall use cannabis or cannabis items on any school district property within the Township of Bernards. This will include the smoking, vaping, aerosolizing, or consumption by any other means of cannabis in any of its forms. 

The second ordinance imposes a general-use restriction that applies to "any and all classes of cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors, or cannabis delivery services for recreational purposes, including but not limited to, cannabis cultivators, cannabis manufacturers, cannabis wholesalers, cannabis distributors, cannabis retailers, and cannabis delivery services."

The prohibition applies to all zones in the township, but does not apply to the delivery of cannabis items and related supplies by an outside delivery service, the ordinance specifies.

Smoke shops and vape shops already are expressly prohibited as uses in all zones within the township.

The ordinance included a further explanation that "due to present uncertainties regarding the potential future impacts from allowing one or more classes of cannabis businesses might have on the Township of Bernards, it is at this time necessary and appropriate, and in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of residents, to amend [township] zoning regulations to prohibit cannabis licenses within the geographic boundaries of the Township of Bernards."

Afterwards, Melissa Reilly, an attorney for the township, said that the township ordinance does not address medical marijuana facilities. However, she said legislation already exists that would require any proposed medical marijuana dispensary in New Jersey to apply for approval from the municipality before it could open.