NEWARK, NJ - The future of medical and recreational marijuana appears to be on shaky ground in New Jersey’s most populated city.
A measure that would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries within Newark's boundaries did not gain enough votes from city council for a second time Wednesday. If the zoning ordinance does not get enough votes a third time, it will be another year before the measure can be considered again.
“I know this is just medical marijuana that we're talking about,” said Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver. “But we are just not equipped at this point to move it forward until we have more conversation with the community as well as the council and our administration and our mayor about this.”
Several council members also expressed concern over recreational marijuana coming to Newark. Medical marijuana is already permitted in New Jersey, and now a vote from state lawmakers to legalize recreational adult use could come as early as next week.
A growing number of municipalities have banned recreational dispensaries already. No such measure has come before the Newark council.
“We have to deal with all the supports around this, from licensing, from inspections, from law enforcement responsibilities,” said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, referring to the possibility of legalized marijuana. “We cannot be shortchanged in this process. Trenton and the state legislators cannot keep all the revenue because we will be dealing with all the headaches associated with this.”
Mayor Ras Baraka has expressed his support for recreational marijuana, but only if non-violent convictions for any amount of cannabis are automatically expunged. He testified in Trenton before a legislative committee on Monday to call for automatic expungement.
Baraka also released a statement back then endorsing medical marijuana. “We believe that medical marijuana dispensaries promote the health and welfare of cannabis patients,” he said in a statement at the time.
The vote in August seemed to draw some confusion from council members though. A version of the supportive resolution that was initially posted online mentioned both recreational and medical marijuana. The recreational aspect was stripped from the measure shortly before the vote.
South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James was the only council member to vote no on the resolution at the time after he expressed concerns from his constituents. West Ward Councilman Joseph McCallum, Jr. and Council President Mildred Crump were absent, but the two voted no on the zoning ordinance for medical dispensaries on Wednesday.
Last night, the land use ordinance received yes votes from Carlos Gonzalez and Ramos. Councilman At-large Edward Osborne, Luis Quintana and McIver abstained; James, McCallum and Crump voted no. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador was absent.
Medical dispensaries could be the first to start selling recreational marijuana should the state's adult use law pass. The state in December granted six more licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, bringing the total number up to 12. The nearest medical dispensary is currently located in Montclair.
None of the companies granted licenses would be located in Newark. But the latest round of licenses that were handed out by the state are being challenged in court.
Councilmembers including Crump and McIver shook their heads in agreement last night when Hope Jackson, a Newark resident, shared her disdain at the thought of recreational marijuana coming to her community. She was concerned with people driving and getting high, especially during rush hour.
“I see a lot of the suburban towns saying that they're not going to have it in their town,” Jackson said. “We don't want it here either. We don't want it here. We don't want drug depots set up in the City of Newark, where people can just drive by and buy drugs as they see fit.”
State Sen. Ron Rice, a former Newark councilman, and police officer, has been a leading voice against legalizing recreational marijuana in the legislature. He has supported decriminalization of small amounts instead.
City council’s vote to approve medical marijuana dispensaries is the final step in a process that began in August last year. The council first had to send its draft land use ordinance to the planning board, which confirmed the proposal in October.
Medical marijuana dispensaries would be classified as a conditional use in Newark. A dispensary would have to get conditional use approval from the planning board, and residents would have the opportunity to object at those meetings.
Most of the dispensaries would only be permitted in the East Ward’s industrial areas.
The measure will come before the council for a third time on April 3.