NEWARK, NJ - City council on Wednesday gave final approval to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Newark, following some confusion over whether the vote would allow for recreational sales.
Some residents and council people raised concerns over recreational use in months prior, and the same worries on Wednesday were raised again before the final vote.
“I think that the last thing Newark needs is another legalized drug,” said Newark resident Colleen Fields. “I know the governor is doing a lot of stuff here, but you better watch it. When people drive [impaired] and all kinds of stuff, it's crazy. So I don't know what you're trying to do and it's the worst thing. I'm out there with the drug addicts and the dope dealers and the dope pushers. I know what it does to our society.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries could be some of the first locations to sell recreational marijuana should the state Legislature pass a legalization bill. The vote to legalize marijuana has stalled for months, but Gov. Phil Murphy has begun to expand the medical marijuana program.
One resident yelled out she did not want any medical marijuana dispensaries in Newark. Another, Dion McCutcheon, asked how the city would ensure that medical marijuana patients wouldn’t sell on the streets for recreational use.
The council unanimously approved the measure, although councilmen from the North and South wards were absent. Corporation Counsel Kenyatta Stewart warned against stigmatizing medical marijuana recipients too.
“We cannot give people a negative stigma behind medical use,” Stewart said. “There are people who use medical marijuana for very, very serious illnesses.”
Two residents at the meeting voiced support for the new zoning measure, including Tarrick Tucker.
“I don't see what's the issue when we have all these over the counter drugs and all these other pharmaceuticals,” Tucker said, also adding that he knows people with chronic pain or sickle cell anemia who have been helped by marijuana.
Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver, who previously abstained from advancing the land use measure, said medicine is changing. She voted yes on Wednesday.
“Medicine is becoming diverse, the world is becoming diverse,” she said before voting. “So there other ways for treatment in the world, not just in Newark.”
East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador noted that some residents were probably getting confused over the measure since the ordinance only designates which zones in the city would allow for medical dispensaries.
“We talked about the port area and areas away from residential communities,” Amador said. “The state hasn't approved the drug yet - the use of the drug yet. So our job is not to approve or disapprove the drug. I think we're getting confused in here. All we're doing is designating certain areas.”
Mayor Ras Baraka also expressed support for having medical marijuana dispensaries in Newark.
The state has to grant licenses for companies to open a medical marijuana dispensary. The latest round of licenses granted did not include locations for Newark.