BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- An impassioned discussion became uncharacteristically contentious at Monday night's Bernardsville Borough Council meeting when the topic was broached regarding the specific language of a proposed ordinance on marijuana facilities in the municipality.
Ordinance No. 2019-1810 would prohibit marijuana dispensers and supplement and amend Section 12 of the Borough Land Use Ordinance entitled "Zoning."
The ordinance "needs to be reworded(so) that it's all associated with research and clinical trials," Councilman Jeffrey Hammond said, "not independent of the research and clinical trials."
"It needs to be reworded," said Councilwoman Diane Greenfield, "but it needs to be in there to cover a clinical trial."
Bernardsville Mayor Mary Jane Canose expressed her concern over whether the relaxing of the standards required to classify the need for marijuana as medicinal might not lead to prescriptions that actually are for recreational usage.
"One of the new conditions they've added is anxiety," Canose said. "What concerns me about that is there is no definitive test for anxiety. You know when you have cancer, you know when you have MS, but who doesn't have anxiety? That scares me, that anyone can go to a doctor and say, 'I have anxiety. I'm stressed'. How do you know that it's not an excuse for a prescription?
"They've loosened it too far," Canose said. "They've almost made it recreational. That concerns me. That's one condition that bothers me."
"The medical is the hook to get the recreational in town," Greenfield said.
Councilman Thomas O'Dea pointed out that New Jersey still has not legalized recreational use of pot, and that a previous proposal in the borough to have an ordinance that bans recreational marijuana while not banning medicinal marijuana was rejected.
Hammond, a surgeon who sat on the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee for Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center until 2008, pointed out how licensing certain medications can have unforeseen consequences.
"The majority of medications that are prescribed, or the reasons for which they are prescribed, are what's called 'off-label'," Hammond said. "The FDA allows physicians in their judgment to use a medication for something for which it is not necessarily approved. That's actually one of the dangers of licensure of medication--once it's approved for something, it can be used for anything."
Councilman Chris Schmidt was particularly vocal about his concern that introducing medicinal marijuana to the borough could result in an increase in recreational pot use.
"We're not talking about denying a child who has some affliction that has to be treated and this is the path their doctor has chosen to go," Schmidt said. "We're talking about recreational, and its [open] use and what it's gonna bring to this town. Nobody wants that as a storefront in this town, as much as we need (storefronts) to be populated. As much as we have a problem with retail, I know I don't want that kind of retail here."
"I'm glad that you speak for nearly 8,000 residents of this town," Hammond said to Schmidt.
"I think I speak for a lot more than 8,000 people," Schmidt responded.
Nearby community Far Hills already has voted not to allow dispensaries, Canose said. O'Dea said the Bernardsville ordinance as currently written "blanket restricts all marijuana--medical or recreational--treats them all equally the same."
O'Dea, Greenfield, Hammond and Christina Zamarra are members who all said yes to the question of allowing for marijuana for clinical trials. Schmidt said no to that.
Hammond also said that marijuana dispensaries in Bernardsville could help remedy some of the borough's economic strain.
"Right now, Bernardsville is characterized as 'Bankville' or where you go to get your nails done," Hammond said. "We could be a medical hub, and I don't think there's anything objectionable about that."
A public hearing on the ordinance will take place Tuesday, Oct. 15.