We, the undersigned, are three current members of the Summit City Council as well as current and former members of the Council’s Administrative Committee. Council recently adopted a resolution that permitted the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries in business districts and prohibited the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana in Summit. As we have been involved in looking into the issue for nearly two years, we wanted to share our rationale with those who may have missed the Council meeting.
Let’s start by addressing what this ordinance does not do. This ordinance does not attempt to regulate individual behavior. What folks do with respect to the use of marijuana in their own homes is not impacted. Also, this ordinance does not prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries or the purchase of medical marijuana in Summit.
This is a land use ordinance and deals with whether or not we would permit a recreational marijuana store in any business district, including neighborhood business districts, in Summit at the present time. As our legal counsel advised us, under State law the “time of application” rule governs where a business can go. As such, if we did nothing, then under our current Development Regulations Ordinance (DRO) there would be no restriction on locating a recreational marijuana store in any business district. If an application were made to place such a store in the Central Retail Business District or any particular neighborhood business district, then we would not have been able to prohibit it. Some in our community may think that is fine, but others do not.
Enacting this ordinance gives us breathing room to consider what we as a community want and to hear from Summit residents. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate the enabling legislation and accompanying regulations that the legislature has not yet passed. It gives us an opportunity to see what neighboring towns are doing. In short, we are urging a cautious approach that allows us to gather all relevant information and make an informed decision.
As we are all aware, a person’s home is likely their largest asset. We, on Council, have an obligation to make sure that we do not take actions that will reduce the value of those homes. We cannot tell you definitively if having a recreational marijuana store on, for example, Springfield Avenue will increase or decrease property values. No one can. In fact, we asked realtors in our town and heard contradictory information as to impacts--some think it will decrease values, some think it will make no impact, and some think it would be positive. We are not willing to take the risk with the value of our and our neighbors’ homes without thoughtful and extensive dialogue with the community.
We also want to address some of the arguments we considered in the Committee—
1. Aren’t we foregoing revenue? When we voted, we didn’t know what the State would do, and we still don’t definitively know. The State Legislature still has not voted on legislation. People have heard about 2% revenue and have wrongly assumed that it is in the law. But, even if the State permits municipalities to collect 2%, we will need to see the fine print on what the legislation states as to any restrictions on how the money is used and/or whether it needs to be shared with the County or school system. In short, we need to see the actual legislative language and not vague newspaper articles.
2. Aren’t you ignoring the will of the people? We don’t think so. The constitutional amendment that was approved on November 3rd, 2020 both legalized the sale of recreational marijuana and decriminalized its use and possession for people over 21. Some voted in favor of Referendum 1 to address the disproportionate impact criminalization has had on minority communities. As you will recall, when the State Legislature first tried to pass bills that only legalized sales without addressing criminal justice reform, those efforts failed. It was only after they included the decriminalization that the referendum bill passed. But, more importantly, we need to have a real conversation with Summit residents as to what they want in their town.
3. Why can’t we limit the store to certain locations of town? We looked at that option. For example, if we were to prohibit recreational sales within 1000 feet of schools or houses of worship, then there were neighborhood business districts that could allow for it. However, we did not think it was fair to the residents in those neighborhoods, such as in the eastern part of Summit, to have the store while other neighborhoods do not. If we are one town, then restricting a particular business to one section seems inequitable.
4. Why are you okay with alcohol and tobacco, and not with marijuana? We did not make a judgment call about what one should or should not ingest or smoke here. We considered whether we should permit a new use in town and if so, whether we wanted to allow it with restrictions. We regulate all types of stores and activities. Just because a use is permitted, it does not mean that we forgo regulation. In order to properly regulate, we need time to think through the issues and engage members of the community.
Change always happens in a community. Nothing is static. However, taking a cautious and thoughtful approach is not a bad thing. Learning from what other communities are experiencing and doing is useful. Getting more facts is important and having our community be fully informed is essential. After the legislature passes enabling legislation and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission passes regulations to govern the recreational marijuana marketplace, Council could decide to hold a workshop with Summit residents to elicit their opinions about whether Summit should allow recreational cannabis dispensaries and what kinds of restrictions are merited.
Let us close by saying, we are not trying to change anyone’s view. Reasonable people can come to an alternative conclusion. However, people who advocate for their position should also be honest about what Council did and why it did it. They may not like the decision, but that doesn’t give them license to change the facts. We took a deliberate, thoughtful, and cautious approach in the interest of our neighbors. We hope that this letter explains how the Administrative Committee came to its decision and why it garnered the support of the Mayor and the majority of Common Council members.
B. David Naidu, Chair, Administrative Committee (2020)
Danny O’Sullivan, Member, Administrative Committee (2020)
Marjorie Fox, Council President, Member of Administrative Committee (2019)