Business & Finance

South Orange Village President Raises the Idea of Recreational Pot Shop In Town; Maplewood Mayor 'Open' To Discussion

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SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - If and when recreational marijuana is legalized in New Jersey, could Maplewood and South Orange become home to one of the legal pot shops?

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum stated that she was contacted by a “retail distributor,” and asked residents in a Facebook post Sunday what they would think of such a store setting up shop in the Village.

In Maplewood, Mayor Vic DeLuca said he has had no such inquiry, but would be open to the idea.

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The speculation about legalized recreational use follows the recent election of Democrat Phil Murphy as Governor of New Jersey, who has spoken out in support of marijuana legalization.

Medicinal use is already allowed in New Jersey, although there are only six medical dispensaries here and laws strictly limit who can prescribe the drug.

New Jersey would join seven other states and the District of Columbia that allow recreational use if it is approved.

Collum’s posting on Facebook Sunday stated:

Informal Poll for South Orange Residents. As you probably know, recreational marijuana is likely going to become legal in New Jersey under our new administration. The control we have at the local level will be through our zoning laws and whether we allow this to be a “permitted use” of commercial property in our town. For example, would you support or not support a retail store that sold marijuana? I’d appreciate an explanation as to why or why not? Also note that if you do support this, we can also restrict where it goes (i.e. only 2nd floor in the central business district, minimally 500 feet from any school, etc) or we can say it’s not a permitted use anywhere. The BOT could also choose to make this a non-binding ballot question to the public at large, which I’m not opposed to. Just to clarify a little more - we can’t supersede state law and say “you can’t smoke within the town”, we can control whether or not it’s legal to distribute it here in retail stores. Hope that makes sense. Perhaps a better example is we don’t permit an “adult store” or strip club anywhere in town right now. Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts. I’m currently undecided.

Edited to Add: A retail distributor has reached out to me in anticipation that New Jersey laws will be changed in the near future.

The comments in response to Collum's post were wide-ranging, with dozens of residents offering both opposing and supportive views.

Among those comments:

“I can speak about this for hours as this is a topic during most of my trips to Wash DC over the last 18 months.  My personal (not professional) opinion is:

- We should permit the sale. Hours of operation should be equal to the availability of alcohol. Must be 21 to purchase. Not within “x” hundred yards from a school.  You could implement a local tax. Etc.......”

“I do not support sale and distribution in SO. This is simply consistent with my views on legalization. I am for it, due to the social justice implications. But I'm not so enthusiastic about the use of it, based on the impact it has had on loved ones. Yes. I know this is also true for alcohol and I know I'm in the minority. But you asked for opinions and rationale, so there you have it.”

“I’d be for it but with very strict guidelines. First, I think we need one store in town (we don’t need more than one). Second, I’d like it out of the BID. We want to attract awesome businesses and this may send some running. I also think since NJ courts have ruled loitering legal, we need to be careful where this is placed (we don’t need it in the village center). Third, tax tax tax it! Fourth, make it a trial (maybe one year to assess its impact).”

On Monday morning, Collum posted a follow-up comment on her original Facebook post, which had received over 100 comments and replies:

Good morning all - thanks again for all the feedback. I will admit, I’m a little surprised at how supportive people are. I expected more “we support the legalization but don’t want a dispensary in our town.” I’m still trying to balance my own conflicting thoughts. I favor the expansion of liquor licenses in New Jersey (another bill), I also favor hookah bars and yet something in me is still unsettling about a marijuana dispensary in town. I imagine it’s because I have very limited experience with it and I’m not as knowledgeable of its implications (I do however support decriminalizing it!). Please feel free to continue the discussion, I have received several PMs from subject matter experts who have worked on the policy side of this issue that I plan to tap for assistance as this conversation moves forward. Also got a few messages from locals who want to open a dispensary if it’s allowed, lol. Also got a few messages from those uncomfortable posting about their loved ones who have been impacted by substance abuse who were not supportive of having a local dispensary. Again, thanks for all the comments and enjoy the week!

Asked about his view of opening such a shop in Maplewood, DeLuca stated via email:

I would be open to a community conversation about a dispensary in Maplewood. As part of the discussion we would need to evaluate the rules and regulations established by the state and look at zoning regulations to determine if it will be a positive or negative for the Township. We need to learn a lot more about the state legislation before we even begin any local consideration. 

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