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Highland Park Ready for Jersey Cannabis, Somerville, Morristown Debating

The Borough of Highland Park, NJ, in Middlesex County, is ready to implement adult-use Jersey cannabis legalization while Somerville and Morristown debate it.

Highland Park Councilman Matthew Hersh explained they passed a resolution and applied to the State to approve adult-use cannabis companies last August.

“I absolutely support the 4/20 effort,” he said at the 4/20 rally last week.

“There’s a lot to do when it comes to cultivating an industry here,” Hersh noted.

“It’s a really import part of struggling downtowns,” he said. “I think a lot of downtowns are open for business when it comes to adult-use recreational marijuana,”

“It’s what people want,” Hersh added regarding legal Jersey Cannabis.

According to the Asbury Park Press, 75 percent of Highland Park voted for legalization in November.

Only, Mom, apple pie, and the flag are that popular.

“If there’s a grow-your-own element, I think a lot of towns would support that too,” Hersh said regarding homegrow.

While Highland Park is eager to allow cannabis sales, they are uncertain of the next step in the process.

“I think towns like ours, we really don’t know the path forward,” Hersh said. He added that they would find guidance on the issue or a model resolution for zoning would be helpful.

The League of Municipalities recent held a webinar for towns to explain what must be done. They said the zoning regulation process must be started by June for towns to meet the deadline.

The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) is working on developing guidance regulation. They recently held their second meeting where they were still in the process of taking over the NJ Department of Health’s medical cannabis program. Regulations will likely be released in the coming months before towns have to make a decision to opt-out by August 21st. So far, the towns that are opting out are conservative, comfortable suburbs or places where old morality tales have dominated the policy debate.  

Unfortunately, delays are the norm in New Jersey cannabis.

Regarding the State’s requirement that cannabis be more than 1,000 feet away from a school, Hersh said, “We have a liquor store 500 ft away from an elementary school, which I feel is far more damaging to quality of life.”

He noted the town did need to gauge people in the community to make sure it fits into downtown.

Hersh noted that New Brunswick, which is next door, will likely approve cannabis licenses as well and the businesses will subsequently be in competition.

Hersh revealed he’s personally Cali Sober, meaning while he does not drink alcohol, he consumes cannabis.

“Not during business hours,” he joked regarding his use of cannabis.

Hersh was elected to the Highland Park Borough Council for the first time in 2016, and then resigned to accept an appointment in Governor Phil Murphy’s administration. After serving, Hersh became Director, Policy and Advocacy for the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ and retook a seat on the Council.

PBL Assay Science is looking open a third-party cannabis testing lab in Highland Park. Their CEO Robert Pestka, lives in town.

Somerville and Morristown Undecided on Allowing Jersey Cannabis Firms

Somerville, the county seat of Somerset County, is debating allowing Jersey cannabis dispensaries in town.

“There’s a lot to digest, and it could be fairly contentious,” Mayor Dennis 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.”

The referendum passed Somerville by 73 percent. The Clerk-Administrator Kevin Sluka noted that should be taken into account.

Five possible licenses could be allowed to operate within their towns. The sixth is delivery sales and does not need a brick and mortar location, most likely.

“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.”

Sullivan noted that along with the Council, the town’s Zoning Board and Planning Board also must approve it.

Sluka noted that since more officials have to be involved, it will be a lengthy process.

“The more government involved, the longer it takes to get things in order,” he said.

Morristown is debating a proper regulatory scheme too. They are looking to assemble a committee the way Princeton has and study the issue. In the meantime, they will pass a temporary ban on cannabis sales.

“In the last meeting, we set out to create a committee of residents to devise legislation about it, I would say that we have heard all your comments and appreciate your input,” said Council President Stefan Armington.

The referendum passed Morristown by 77 percent.

They are still in the process of forming the committee to study the issue.

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