This will be the first of a monthly Letter to the Editor from me as a minority member of the Township Council. I am beginning this series in response to a decision by Jeanne Kingsley, the Township Council President, to appoint herself the spokesperson for the Township Council which is not a role defined or addressed in our Municipal Code for that title. I do not regard her as my spokesperson.
Mrs. Kingsley’s Letter to the Editor asks for Input from the public on a matter that will soon need to be decided by the Township Council. The process of deciding on what steps to take relative to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMM) should be conducted in public with information shared during a Conference Session of a Township Council Meeting at which session facts can be presented and public questions can be raised. The public is indeed encouraged to attend and share their thoughts. At least two conference sessions have been set aside to present the facts regarding the CREAMM Act and to discuss those facts openly. We can schedule more.
I am concerned that the Township Council should not arrive at a conclusion without all the facts being available. The Council should not make decisions based solely on opinion. What Mrs. Kingsley’s Letter seems to suggest is that public opinion potentially outweighs facts. I heartily disagree. While public opinion matters and personal opinion is a reality of any rule making, the facts need to be heard, understood and carefully considered. As Councilman Stephen Yellin noted at our last Conference session on this topic (April 20), 65% of voters in Berkeley Heights voted in favor of legalizing cannabis last November. The resulting CREAMM Act provides for a potential revenue stream to the Township of “up to 2% for cannabis cultivator, manufacturer, and/or retailer; and 1% for wholesalers…based on the receipts for each sale and is paid directly to the municipality .... The tax cannot apply to delivery services to consumers or transfers for the purpose of bulk transportation” according to the New Jersey League of Municipalities. What these funds could amount to is hard to predict due to uncertainties about demand or the number of licenses that will be approved.
Finally, the opt-out provisions in the Act enable local municipalities to regulate and/or prohibit any of the operations related to cannabis production or sale except for the delivery of cannabis within their borders, but action must be taken within 180 days to adopt any regulating ordinance. If nothing is done the municipality will not be allowed any regulation for a period of five years (and cannot subsequently prohibit established entities). On the other hand, a municipality may change its regulations any time after enacting them if the deadline is met. We do have realistically until July 6 to introduce a regulatory ordinance and meet the deadline.
We will hear more from professionals about this at our May 4 meeting. I absolutely welcome the public to attend, ask questions and share their opinions. My caution to fellow council members is to approach their decision with deliberation and after careful consideration and not to rush to judgement however popular that might be.