BERNARDSVILLE, NJ — Before its members ultimately voted in favor of an ordinance prohibiting the operation of any class of cannabis business within the borough’s boundaries, the Bernardsville Borough Council Monday night heard presentations from four Basking Ridge teens on the issue.

Paige Nielsen, Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Bernardsville-based nonprofit, Community in Crisis, whose mission is to heighten awareness and education on substance use prevention and recovery support, introduced the four local students, each of whom delivered three-minute presentations arguing against the widespread availability of marijuana.

Maura Woodland-Metemelia, a junior at Ridge H.S. and a youth volunteer for Community in Crisis, said, “Alcohol is easily accessible. Teenagers in our community as well as across the entire country have found ways to obtain alcohol through siblings, parents and the use of fake I.D.s. There are dozens of liquor stores in our towns where underage kids can illegally purchase alcohol. With the legalization of marijuana stores in our area marijuana will become a greater threat to our young community, mirroring the popularity and easy accessibility of alcohol. The appeal for marijuana will be even greater. Underage people will find ways to purchase it, and our rising generation will have the notion that drugs are harmless. Even though the sale of marijuana to people under 21 is prohibited, marijuana companies still reach youth in legal states. For example, it was reported that in Washington state 61% of high schoolers believe that marijuana is easy to obtain. Even when marijuana was illegal in our area, hundreds of teenagers found ways to get it. By opening marijuana stores, we are simply fueling their fire and making it significantly easier to fall down the dangerous path of drugs.”

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Rohan Panjwani of Basking Ridge said, “Marijuana has been legalized by the state, but we need to try and ban the presence of marijuana retailers, growers and distributors in Bernardsville. If it has been legalized, why do we even do this? If it’s been legalized, it must be good, right? No. We meet today not just because we are concerned about the detrimental effects of marijuana itself but we also need to consider other aspects. Imagine this. You wake up in the morning and head to town for some bagels and coffee. Instead, right next to your bagel shop there is a marijuana cultivator. … Potentially, the smell and the odor of marijuana wafting from the store could impact the shop next door and your food. Not only is the smell coming from the marijuana shop, making your time less enjoyable, it could also impact your health. A new study found that second-hand marijuana smoke could be more hazardous to one’s health than second-hand smoke from cigarettes. How would that make you feel? Would you still want the bagel? In fact, this issue has impacted a town in Michigan. After complaints about marijuana odors from citizens, the town council of Bessemer purchased a device to measure odor strength and is considering an odor ordinance and fines to combat the problem. Now, there is a clear issue that not only you, but many citizens of this town, will have to complain about, possibly ruining the image of the town in their eyes. Clearly, past the actual effect of the drug, the presence of the shops themselves damage the town and the citizens living in it.”

Jabeen Sheikh, a junior at Ridge High School, asserted, “Making marijuana so easily accessible in our community will leave adolescents under the false impression that marijuana use is not detrimental to their bodies, minds and futures. The adolescent brain is not fully developed and is very vulnerable to damage from the use of marijuana. It has been linked to an increased risk for depression and suicide and even psychosis, and it can negatively impact cognitive abilities and academic performance. I would imagine everyone here is aware of the devastating effects marijuana could have on a young, developing person’s brain and body. But are we also recognizing that marijuana has the capability of destroying a promising teenager’s future. It is quite clear that Bernardsville and Bernards Township are brimming with brilliant students, talented athletes and individuals who can make a real impact on the world. Opening marijuana retailers will only hinder these bright futures, and promote the idea that our community is okay with selling a substance which, according to data from the national monitoring the future study will increase the likelihood of youth using alcohol and other drugs. This is what frightens my friends and I the most, that our own peers have a much higher chance of falling under the harmful influence of marijuana if a marijuana retailer were to open. The data on youth marijuana use does not lie.”

Sheikh also read a presentation prepared by local student Joshua Sprinkle, who wrote, “I lived in Medford, Oregon for around nine years prior to moving to Liberty Corner last June. Soon after, Medford legalized non-medical cultivation and uses of marijuana in 2014. A person could stand on any corner downtown and along with the mountains see one or more dispensaries. I remember distinctly the one directly adjacent to the children’s wing of the local library. Any field left unplowed was populated with grow tents intended for cultivation of cannabis. Medford quickly became known for more than just its wine and pears, and one of those fields was along the bus route to my high school. The first time a classmate offered me marijuana was in the sixth grade, but nothing could have prepared me for the quite literal stench of freshman year. I can name several students from every single one of my classes that year who claimed they smoked or used pot on a regular basis. It was impossible to ignore fellow teenagers, freshmen through seniors, boys and girls, who were completely dependent on its mind-altering effects. Navigating the first year of high school with new academic pressures and expectations along with a brand-new season of self-discovery is made infinitely more challenging with the distraction of people you knew from elementary school coming to first period with a high. The decisions at hand and in relation to dispensaries and all of the above are not merely a principle or ideology. The decision to zone for these establishments is the decision to bring marijuana into the culture and classroom of every local student bar none. Take it from a student and fellow human who has lived through the inevitable reality of letting the substance into the community. Do not let this happen. This tarnishes the name of a town, clouds the minds of its students, and serves as a gateway for many. 

Following the presentations by the four teens, an adult resident from Bernardsville provided a counterpoint in favor of the availability and sale of cannabis. 

“It’s awesome that these kids stood up and voiced what they had to say, but they’re speaking as kids,” said Jan Greco of Bernardsville, “and they’re not speaking as adults who have chronic syndromes and anxieties and all the other medical reasons why medical marijuana is great and should be approved and appreciated here in town. I have a junior in high school. I don’t want him smoking pot any more than anyone else does. But it’s not about the kids, it’s about the adults. It’s about medical, it’s about what could be beneficial to the life of the town and not looking at it as a drug.”