LIVINGSTON, NJ — After hearing mixed but productive feedback from community members during a public forum held earlier this month to educate the public about cannabis legislation recently passed statewide and garner input about local regulation, the Township of Livingston is inviting further participation in the ongoing discussion when it resumes on May 11 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

During the April 13 forum, Township Attorney Jarrid Kantor explained the basics of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Assistance Marketplace and Modernization Act—which legalizes the personal use of cannabis for certain adults, decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana possession and removes cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug—and reviewed the specific options available that the Livingston Township Council must consider. He reiterated that the council has until Aug. 21 to determine whether it will permit, regulate or ban the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale, distribution, retail sale and delivery of marijuana products within the Livingston community.

If no action is taken in the allotted time, all aforementioned uses would be permitted in Livingston without regulation, although the number of licenses would be governed by the state. Kantor also explained that the township has the option to join neighboring communities such as Millburn, Chatham and Hanover and others in “opting out,” which would mean that all licenses would be banned in Livingston until the township has conducted sufficient research and garnered enough feedback to adopt a local marijuana ordinance that is in the best interest of the community.

Panelists for the first event—including Kantor, Mayor Shawn Klein, Deputy Mayor Ed Meinhardt, Councilmen Al Anthony, Michael Vieira and Rudy Fernandez, Township Manager Barry Lewis and attorney Kourtney Cooke from Antonelli Kantor, P.C.—all felt the forum was productive and reiterated that no action has been taken or will be taken without sufficient public notice and consideration. 

“I have talked to lots of people about these issues; and after tonight, perhaps there will be other ways to think about it,” said Klein. “Generally, people that I've spoken to have fallen into one of three buckets. The first bucket is those who have voted ‘yes’ on legalization and are pro-marijuana either because they are our users or they see a business opportunity and want to see Livingston allow all of the available options under the law. The second bucket is people I’ve spoken to who voted to legalize it on the referendum, but did it either for social-justice reasons or they are marijuana users and want it to be legal, but they do not want it in the town. And the third bucket is people who voted no to legalization and also do not want it in the town.

“Clearly there are strong opinions on this, and we understand that whatever actions the council may decide in the best interest of Livingston, that there will be some people who are perhaps dissatisfied after that. At this point, it's important to clarify the council has made no decision related to the implementation of the law, and that's one of the reasons why we're doing what we're doing…The council sees [these forums] as an opportunity to listen. We are interested to hear from any and all town residents who wish to speak on the subject.”

During the first forum, the panel heard comments from a variety of community members who participated from Livingston as well as neighboring towns to express opinions both for and against the regulations being considered.

Although many speakers were either passionately in favor of or against having the substance sold within the community, others shared perspectives that were somewhere in between, such as suggesting that the township consider only permitting the use and sale of medical marijuana within the community, regulating the specific zones in which the use and sale of recreational cannabis will be permitted or opting out altogether until more research can be conducted.

Two local business owners expressed opposite viewpoints, including one who felt that a marijuana retailer would draw more foot traffic to his and surrounding businesses while Jonathan Wasserstein, a Livingston resident and local optometrist, was concerned that having such a facility next to his eye-care center might deter patients.

“I'd be concerned that people wouldn't want to come to the shopping centers, [and] I'd also be concerned about any kind of lingering odors—especially if there was smoking allowed there,” said Wasserstein, owner of Livingston Family Eyecare. “As a resident, we don't have vape shops [in this town], we don't have adult bookstores, we don't have tattoo parlors, we don't have gentlemen's clubs, we don't have pawn shops or gun shops, and I think that's good. I think that makes it very family-friendly...My opinion is the council would do well to not permit marijuana locations here in our town.”

Although she felt that such businesses should be regulated to a certain extent, Sarah Silversten summed up the feelings of many residents by stating that the community needs to move beyond the fears that history has instilled about cannabis use and to consider its legalization as an economic opportunity for the township.

“As a parent, I get the sort of anxiety behind it; but the fact of the matter is this is here, and it's happening,” said Silversten, a 14-year resident and mother of two. “I think there’s this sort of history, which is tied up in a lot of prejudice and racism that somehow cannabis is this scary dangerous thing and alcohol is more culturally accepted…I don't think that comparing a marijuana dispensary to a gun store or a gentlemen's club is a fair comparison in any way shape or form. I actually find that totally bizarre and offensive…

“When I drive down Livingston Avenue and I see storefront after storefront empty [or] for lease—and that's a sign of the times we've been through, and it's been very, very hard economically in our town and for so many business owners—I think what an opportunity we have and what a shame it would be to waste this chance to be on the forefront of so much economically and socially. If people aren't buying it in Livingston, they'll go to another town and spend their money there, and the storefronts in our town, unfortunately, will remain empty. So I'm hoping that to match the overwhelming majority of people who voted for this in New Jersey and in our town that the council will consider allowing this opportunity to really be fruitful for our economy and our town as a whole.”

Among those who spoke from out of town was Jeff King of Eatontown, an advocate of safe adult usage who thanked all those who pushed the township council members to be “open-minded and progressive with [their] thoughts about zoning for cannabis businesses.”

He specifically urged the council members to prioritize the community’s “most fragile and suffering or needful people” in their decision and then to secondarily “work on the zoning in a similar way that [they] would zone other businesses that have traffic concerns” when discussing those who use marijuana “socially or spiritually” if it is determined that such businesses would be beneficial to the community.

“I want to definitely appeal to your better angels and your compassion for patients who are sick and suffering who could benefit,” said King. “There's a lot of efficacy for many, many different conditions—some very horrible diseases and some chronic diseases, autoimmune. We know people that suffer and that cannabis could help; and so, I beg of you to, by all means, bend over backwards to do anything you can for these kinds of people.”

The mayor concluded the April forum by urging community members to continue sharing their comments and questions as the discussion continues. He also emphasized once again that no decisions have been made at this point and that the council has until Aug. 21 to either opt out or to pass a local ordinance.

“This is going to be something that we're going to obviously have to address in the future, and we're going to figure out how we're going to do that,” said Klein.

The first public forum on cannabis legislation in Livingston can be viewed in its entirety at any time BY CLICKING HERE.

The next public forum on May 11 will give those who missed the first forum an opportunity to hear the specific details the legislation, asks questions and provide comments. Those who are unable to comment during the live meeting can send their comments or questions to livcomments@livingstonnj.org.

Residents can access the forum by visiting the Livingston Township calendar and clicking on the May 11, 2021 Public Forum event listing for the Zoom link and passcode, which can also be accessed directly as follows:

Join via the following URL: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89290222042?pwd=VmYwcmhEVDBTdHE5Z2xzeWZNL2dPQT09

Webinar ID: 892 9022 2042
Passcode: 137669

Or One tap mobile :
    US: +16465588656,,89290222042#,,,,*137669#  or +13017158592,,89290222042#,,,,*137669# 

Or Telephone: (for higher quality, dial a number based on current location):
    US: +1 646 558 8656  or +1 301 715 8592  or +1 312 626 6799  or +1 669 900 9128  or +1 253 215 8782  or +1 346 248 7799

International numbers available at https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kjwvbOx5B

All residents are encouraged to join via Zoom or watch the livestream on the Livingston Township Facebook page.

The Zoom webinar is the official avenue for public comments to be addressed during the meeting. Facebook comments posted during the forum will not be considered.

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