SOMERVILLE, NJ - Mayor Dennis Sullivan and members of the Borough Council will begin weighing the advantages and disadvantages of licensing retail dispensaries for the sale of legal marijuana at Monday night's virtual council meeting.
"There's a lot to digest, and it could be fairly contentious," Sullivan said. It's game changing and has serious long-term implications. There's a lot to consider. I expect to have a substantive discussion about what we see is best for town as a whole."
New Jersey voters approved a referendum legalizing Cannabis in the November 2020 election by more than 70 percent; the local vote reflected that overwhelming majority, according to Sullivan.
On Feb. 22, 2021 Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, which established the framework for a legal, adult-use cannabis industry in New Jersey and reform of criminal possession and sales offenses. The five-member NJCRC has six months to promulgate the laws to oversee the legalization of cannabis; New Jersey is the 13th state to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis.
The board met for the first time last week, and again this week.
The state law gives local governing bodies several options, from licensing cannabis retail stores in their business districts to an outright ban on such businesses. The law gives each governing body until August to adopt laws regulating the sale of marijuana in their respective towns.
The law provides for six different types of licenses that businesses may seek in connection with the recreational cannabis market:
Class 1 License: Cannabis Cultivator (growing cannabis)
Class 2 License: Cannabis Manufacturer (preparing and packaging)
Class 3 License: Cannabis Wholesaler (selling to other wholesalers and retailers)
Class 4 License: Cannabis Distributor (selling between cultivators/establishments)
Class 5 License: Cannabis Retailer (selling to retail customers)
Class 6 License: Cannabis Delivery (delivery from retailers to retail customers).
"Obviously, some of those are not appropriate for us," Sullivan said. "Cultivation, warehousing? It's not like we have empty warehouses or unused farmland. Retail is probably the only thing we would consider."
Borough Administrator/Clerk Kevin Sluka said he received at least a half-dozen inquiries from people who said they were interested in learning more about opening a Cannabis dispensary soon after the November vote; he referred all calls to the NJCRC. There have been no other calls since then, he added.
Sluka said the borough's Zoning Board will take the lead on deciding what to recommend to the Borough Council. The Planning Board will also be consulted.
"There's six people to chime in," Sullivan said, referring to the Borough Council, "and the Planning and Zoning Boards. We will want to solicit their input."
Borough officials joined with local lawmakers throughout the state on April 9 for a webinar hosted by the New Jersey League of Municipalities to learn more about the law legalizing marijuana and how it may affect the state's 567 municipalities.
Two weeks ago, the Bridgewater Township Council voted to ban the sale or marijuana in the township, approving four related ordinances prohibiting the operation of cannabis businesses within Bridgewater’s borders; the operation of any class of marijuana establishment in all the town’s zones; smoking, vaping, aerosolizing and consumption of cannabis or cannabis items on public property; and recreational cannabis, as a matter of conduct.
Sixty-seven percent of Bridgewater voters had approved the November referendum.
"I have not heard of anyone being against it," Sluka said, adding that the 70 percent approval in Somerville could dictate any actions the Borough Council takes.
"Obviously, politicians are supposed to represent the people," he said.
"We have to be prepared to make a decision before August," Sluka continued. "If there is to be an opportunity to open any sort of marijuana business, that will involve the zoning and other regulatory boards participating in the discussion; the more government involved, the longer it takes to get things in order."