VERONA, NJ - Like other townships in the area, Verona discussed the potential impact of the potential legalization of marijuana within the state of New Jersey proposed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Deputy Mayor Michael Nochimson sparked the discussion when he shared an article that appeared in a local newspaper over the weekend. He noted that the subject of the article, Rick Fuentes who headed the NJ State Police for 15 years, had a very “thumbs down” opinion of the proposed legislation and he wanted to make the council aware of the article.
Currently, New Jersey has legalized medical marijuana, which is distributed by six dispensaries, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Murphy's plan would reportedly allow residents to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use, and previous convictions for possession would be eligible to be expunged. In addition the drug would be taxed at the point of sale.
“I think it’s time to begin to have that discussion. His [Fuentes] opinion is actually thumbs down on it [legalizing marijuana] and it’s Interesting some of the fact that he points to,” Nochimson explained. “It’s more than just receiving dollars. There have been studies in states like California and Colorado which show that traffic deaths increase significantly by about 150 percent, emergency room visits increase significantly and you have high school suspensions and expulsions up significantly.”
Township Manager Matthew Cavallo said he has been keeping an eye on the two bills that are currently pending regarding the legalization of marijuana and there has been no movement thus far. He indicated they are essentially identical and both have a clause that allow municipalities to restrict the distribution of marijuana within the township. However, because the legislation hasn’t been adopted, Cavallo felt it was a moot point.
“We can restrict the distribution all we want at this point, but it’s still illegal,” Cavallo said. “So until there’s movement in the legislature I think we should absolutely keep an eye on it, but I don’t think we need to begin any formal ordinance process.”
Nochimson said he appreciated Cavallo monitoring the situation, but felt it was not too soon to start the conversation in Verona.
“Bottom line is it’s coming up. Other towns have dealt with it and I think it makes sense for this council to begin to have just a little bit of a debate and get some information,” Nochimson stated. “At some point we are going to possibly have to make a decision or let the state make the decision for us, but I always feel it’s nice for us to control our own destiny.”
Councilman Alex Roman agreed with Nochimson, noting that he had just recently received a first notice from a commercial landlord modifying the rules of the building to ban the use of marijuana indoors and to ban operating a dispensary in the space.
“Some of these organizations are starting to look at this. I think that people are figuring out that it’s going to take time to figure out what everyone’s opinion is and to draft whatever needs to be drafted,” Roman said. “So I don’t have any objection to having the discussion sooner rather than later.”
Other area towns are also discussing the potential impact of the proposed legislation on their communities. Cedar Grove Councilwoman Kerry Peterson spoke a recent council meeting about the importance of being prepared for the new law and North Caldwell introduced an ordinance banning the sale of marijuana within the borough.
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