NEWARK, NJ - City council today approved a set of resolutions that both supported medical marijuana dispensaries and recommended where they should be located in Newark.
The measure proposed amendments to the local land use regulations for dispensaries, which will be referred to the city planning board for review.
Mayor Ras Baraka supported city council’s approval today, saying it would reduce the burden on city residents who have to travel miles away to get to a dispensary. The nearest dispensary is currently located in Montclair, and there are five others in the state.
“We believe that medical marijuana dispensaries promote the health and welfare of cannabis patients,” Baraka said in a statement. “During a series of town hall meetings and discussions, residents and stakeholders gave us significant feedback on their issues and concerns.”
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has expanded the medicinal marijuana program, recently calling for more dispensaries in New Jersey and increasing the number of conditions that could be treated with medicinal marijuana.
The land use resolution posted online before the start of today’s city council meeting originally included language for both recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries. Recreational dispensaries were eliminated from the resolution that was ultimately approved, said the city's corporation counsel, Kenyatta Stewart.
Still, South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James said he heard many seniors raise concerns about allowing “individuals to walk on the street, smoking marijuana similar to alcohol.”
“As we push to legalize marijuana, we need to look at those individuals who are in jail right now based on marijuana offenses,” James said after the vote. “What's going to happen? Are they going to be released? What's the process for their records to be expunged or canceled?”
There are varying opinions from lawmakers in Newark on medical and recreational marijuana. Baraka supports recreational marijuana, while state Sen. Ron Rice supports decriminalization of small amounts.
The city council recommended that medical marijuana dispensaries be permitted in hospital zones and light industrial zones. Cultivation, manufacturing and compliance, or test facilities, would be permitted in certain industrial districts too.
The amendments also proposed a 200-foot buffer from schools, colleges and parks for the medical dispensaries.
The planning board has 35 days to submit a report to city council to review the amendments to the land use ordinance and determine if its "substantially consistent" with the city's master plan.