Government

'Luggage Factory' Could Be Hunterdon's First Pot Shop

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The former Luggage Factory store on Route 202-31 is now vacant. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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The former Luggage Factory store on Route 202-31. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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RARITAN TWP., NJ – A question about opening a marijuana dispensary on Route 202-31 has prompted officials here to consider whether they want such businesses in the township.

An informal inquiry was made to the township’s Planning and Zoning Department about locating such a business in the former Luggage Factory building, Mayor Mike Mangin said at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting. The potential applicant has applied for a state license to distribute the drug, the mayor said, without identifying the entity.

The Luggage Factory, which is now closed, is next to the Golden Star Diner and across the state highway from Everitts Plaza.

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Township attorney Jeffrey Lehrer said there are now six medical dispensaries in the state, with a bill pending that would expand the disorders that could be treated with the drug.

“The governor ... would like to see this move forward,” Lehrer said of the bill. Bills that would allow recreational marijuana use are also pending in the state legislature.

Lehrer added that there is also pending federal legislation – with bipartisan support – that would prevent the federal government from interfering in states that have adopted laws allowing marijuana use.

In New Jersey, the state allows municipalities “the right to limit the ability to put medical marijuana (dispensaries) in your community,” Lehrer said. “Some towns have taken the position that ‘limit’ means ‘prohibit,’” he said, and have adopted ordinances to exclude its sale.

But, Lehrer said, “It’s an undecided question” whether “limit” means “prohibit,” and the answer is “not crystal clear.”

Regarding the Luggage Factory as a possible site for marijuana sales, “As far as zoning requirements, it could be a site they could use,” said Township Administrator Don Hutchins. “There would be nothing restricting them as far as zoning.”

Edward Purcell, who is also a township attorney, agreed that retail marijuana sales are, "arguably permitted under the existing code.”

And that’s the issue, Mangin said. To avoid lawsuits, any zoning rules that would limit marijuana sales in the township would have to be in place before any formal marijuana retail application is filed with the township.

“For the next meeting I’d like everybody to formulate an opinion of what they think,” Mangin asked of his fellow Committee members. “We need to hear people’s comments on a cannabis ordinance.”

“I want to state my position clearly and unequivocally,” said Committeeman Lou Reiner. “I oppose any marijuana usage in this township whatsoever, in any case. No exceptions.

“I would like to pass an ordinance to ban usage of marijuana totally without question. I’m not compromising on that ... I’m half-afraid our roads are going to be turned into killing fields,” Reiner said.

“I’ve seen the dark side of drug use and marijuana,” said Committeeman Gary Hazard. But he added that he’s also seen “where it’s been a Godsend,” such as with those suffering from cancer.

Hazard said that if he was asked whether he’d personally favor marijuana sales in the township, “The answer is no.” But, he added, he thinks it’s best to, “Listen to the people who elected you.”

Mangin, Deputy Mayor Karen Gilbert and Committeeman Craig O’Brien didn’t express any opinion on the issue.

The mayor directed that the matter be added to the agenda of the next regular Township Committee meeting for further discussion. That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. July 17 in the Municipal Building off Route 523.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the date of the next Township Committee meeting.

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