BERNARDSVILLE, NJ — The Borough Council unanimously passed an ordinance at its meeting Monday night that prohibits the operation of any class of cannabis business within the borough’s boundaries. 

A section of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act that Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law in February authorizes municipalities by ordinance to adopt regulations governing the number of cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors or cannabis delivery services allowed to operate within their boundaries, as well as the location manner and times operation of such establishments, distributors or delivery services, and establishing civil penalties for the violation of any such regulations.

But individual towns must act on establishing these regulations or prohibitions within 180 days of the date the Governor signed the bill into law. That sets the deadline for action at Aug. 22, 2021. Municipalities that do not meet that deadline would then be forced to permit the growing, cultivating, manufacturing, selling and reselling of cannabis and cannabis items for a five-year period, and the retail selling of cannabis items to consumers would be a conditional use in all commercial and retail zones.

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In its ordinance, the Bernardsville Borough Council cited “present uncertainties regarding the potential future impacts that allowing one or more classes of cannabis business might have on New Jersey municipalities in general, and on Bernardsville Borough in particular,” for amending the borough’s land use regulations to prohibit all marijuana-related land use and development within the geographic boundaries of the borough.

“Introducing more intoxicants, or normalizing them, is a poor decision on the voters’ part in New Jersey,” Councilman John Donahue said. 

“I supported rather vigorously the approval for medical dispensaries” Councilman Dr. Jeff Hammond said. “I believed in them then, I believe in them still. I thought it was good for Bernardsville, I thought it would be good economically, I thought it would be good … on a humanitarian basis. However, the current legislation that was passed by the state does not permit any such selectivity, so a medical dispensary would also be allowed to be a purveyor of recreational marijuana. I voted against the referendum. I supported decriminalization, not legalization, of marijuana.”

Hammond said that the New Jersey League of Municipalities in 2019 was lobbying for a tax of between 3% and 5% on marijuana sales, but the eventual figure of a 2% tax is “insufficient,” and, Hammond said, “might end up costing the borough money.”

Chad McQueen explained his support for the ordinance.

“When the state first proposed medical marijuana as an opportunity, at that time it was my opinion that they were doing so as an entryway for legalized marijuana,” McQueen said. “The actions of the state have blurred the lines between medical and legalized marijuana. I’m an emphatic yes supporting the prohibition at this time. It’s going to be very hard to change my mind.”

Councilman Tom O’Dea explained that by voting yes, the decision can be revisited in the future, “whereas, if we did not implement a plan like this, we would have no ability to revisit or change anything for a five-year period. That would be unacceptable. … This is the correct approach for our town for the near term.”

“This can be revisited down the road, but we are in a time crunch, and the correct vote to make now is yes,” Councilwoman Christine Zamarra said.

Mayor Mary Jane Canose concurred with Hammond’s comments about the impact from a tax revenue perspective.

“When this originally started, the money coming to the local municipality, the percentage of the tax was around 5 or 6 percent,” Canose said. “The fact that it is now capped at 2% does not do a lot to help the borough in terms of revenue.”