NEWARK, NJ - After failing twice, city council today advanced an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Newark.

The council has flip-flopped on the issue several times. In August, the council passed a resolution that welcomed and supported medical marijuana dispensaries. However, the actual land use ordinance to allow such facilities couldn’t get enough votes at two previous council meetings.

“I strongly believe that any applications for the establishment of medical marijuana facilities in the City of Newark should be heard by the (zoning) board of adjustment, not the planning board,” said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos. “I really feel that's the right venue because it will give the community an opportunity to be noticed in case there is an application pending in their neighborhood.”

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Mayor Ras Baraka previously endorsed the council’s support for medical marijuana dispensaries. Baraka has also supported recreational use of marijuana, but only if state lawmakers tie automatic expungement to it.

Newark council members, who were all backed by Baraka in last year’s local election, have expressed doubts over allowing recreational marijuana in the city. They became most vocal about it during a council meeting on March 20, just days before state lawmakers were set to vote on legalizing marijuana.

Ultimately, state lawmakers canceled the vote on legalizing recreational marijuana since it didn’t have enough support in the legislature. Medical marijuana is already permitted in New Jersey. 

Several other municipalities have already banned recreational dispensaries, but such a measure has not come before Newark City Council. A ban in Newark, the most populated city in New Jersey that is highly diverse, would surely make waves throughout the state.

While there seems to be a divide between Baraka and council members about recreational use, state lawmakers from Newark also have varying opinions. State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex), a former Newark councilman and police officer, is one of the leading opponents of recreational use.

Rice has, however, sponsored a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver and Councilmen at-Large Edward Osborne and Luis Quintana at the March 20 meeting abstained from voting on the medical marijuana dispensary issue. South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum, Jr., and Council President Mildred Crump previously voted no.

All council members voted yes to the measure today, but Crump and Osborne were absent.

East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador was absent from the March 20 meeting, but today he gave his approval by saying, “Far out, man.”

The ordinance will still have to be fully adopted on second reading.

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