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Jersey City Council Discusses Cannabis Control Board, Lounges

The Jersey City Council reviewed its legal cannabis ordinance, which includes a Cannabis Control Board (CCB) to regulate who will receive a license for companies like cannabis lounges.

They also debated what to do with tax revenue derived from cannabis sales.

Cannabis Control Board Proposed

First Assistant Corporation Counsel Nick Strasser explained that the ordinance establishes a three-person Cannabis Control Board appointed by the mayor to serve staggered three-year terms.

He said the Cannabis Control Board would be like the ABC board regulating liquor licenses. Those who wish to operate in JC will likely be in touch with Jersey City Supervising Planner Matthew Ward and other city officials as the process continues, Strasser noted.

 Council President Joyce Waterman asked if the political party of the CCB appointees would be considered. Strasser said no and that they could add language ensuring the appointee’s impartiality on the applications.

The Cannabis Control Board was not part of the planning board ordinance approved unanimously by the planning board last month.

The planning board ordinance allows cannabis cultivations, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and dispensary businesses to keep all facilities 200 feet from a school.

Ward noted they were purposefully silent on delivery. He explained they’re not sure what it would entail. It could be like a taxi fleet or Amazon with a fleet of vehicles that need space. Or it could be comparable to Uber with drivers using their own vehicles.

All New Jersey municipalities must pass an ordinance regulating cannabis by August 21st. Otherwise, blanket regulations from the state automatically go into place.

Implementing Cannabis Lounges in Jersey City

Additionally, Ward said cannabis lounges are being created to allow those in federal housing or renting a place to consume. He noted dispensaries could operate cannabis lounges. That’s as long as dispensary owners meet regulations like cigar lounges.

“In many cases, it might be the only safe space for residents or consumers to consume the product they’re purchasing,” he said.

Ward noted the issues those in federal housing and renters might have with consuming cannabis at home.

“Have you spoken to Health and Humans Services and Quality of Life people?” Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera asked regarding the ordinance.

Ward said no since the zoning division would enforce regulations.

“There’s going to be a lot of problems. Most of you don’t remember the 60s,” Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano said regarding the ordinance and cannabis lounges.

“They should have been at the table to see how we can do this when it comes to retail. If not, we need to go back to the drawing board,” Watterman added.

Rivera also expressed trepidation about what was in front of the council.

Cannabis and Quality of Life

“I like the ordinance. My concern is that I don’t want to get to the finish line, and I really don’t win because all my T’s weren’t crossed, and all my I’s weren’t dotted,” he stated.

“I just want to make sure that the health department is on board, quality of life is on board, so we don’t have to get to the end and have to look back to make sure we did everything right.”

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey echoed a similar sentiment about cannabis lounges.

“That would, to me, fall under HHS and Quality of Life as it relates to permitting. I have my concerns regarding consumption lounges.”

Strasser again emphasized that the August 21st deadline is rapidly approaching. Ward added that he thinks there is still time to coordinate with HHS to ensure everything is going smoothly.

Cannabis Town Law Deadline Approaches

“If you’re concerned about the coordination within the internal city departments and divisions to make sure everything is enforced the way you want it, then we can have those conversations,” Strasser added before Watterman agreed that HHS needs to weigh in on the ordinance.

Strasser said they could opt out temporarily and spend more time crafting the ordinance but again pointed out that doing nothing could be detrimental.

“If we do nothing, then it’s like full steam ahead. We have no restrictions in our city,” he added.

“This is not no easy issue. This is something we really have to think about,” Watterman responded.

During the caucus meeting, it was also noted that public consumption of cannabis is currently prohibited in the ordinance.

“Are those transactions taxed, um, through our ordinances or the state?” Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro asked regarding delivery services.

“We don’t actually tax the delivery. It all goes to the state,” Ward answered.

Strasser said that cannabis trucks or pop-ups would not be possible. Ward said the state is silent on the matter.

Furthermore, Lavarro asked Strasser to do a cannabis presentation to the Municipal Alliance, which handles drug addiction issues, which he chairs.

Ward said it was important to note their microbusiness laws because they promote equity and entrepreneurship, and they want to give the businesses advantages.

To be approved for a location, public hearings that locals are notified of and are advertised need to be held on cannabis facilities, he added.

In the end it seemed they would support cannabis lounges. Cannabis lounges remain controversial even in the legal cannabis markets in the West.

Debating Spending Cannabis Tax Revenue

The Jersey City Council held a special meeting to determine how to spend the funds from taxing legal marijuana businesses. They appeared to find common ground on an initial 50/50 split between the board of education and social equity.

The council did double duty Monday, discussing the establishment of a Cannabis Control Board in the morning before convening again for a 6 p.m. special meeting to discuss authorizing a transfer and user tax on cannabis sales and transfers.

Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley said that Jersey City should “include a social equity component to assist those who have been impacted by marijuana or incarcerated due to marijuana charges.”

She wanted to know how much money would be generated and when it would be available. However, given the unprecedented nature of adult-use cannabis legalization, such figures were unavailable.

Ridley also noted it was important to know how the public schools will be able to use the money in the classroom, a topic where Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey also weighed in.

School Funding Solved By Cannabis Tax

“School funding is a long-term equity piece. I know the SDA (School Development Authority) hasn’t been helpful when it comes to our school facilities. So, I think if we are giving a portion of this tax to the schools … that to me has always been really important.”

In addition, she was concerned with helping those who were in jail or had family members in jail.

“Making sure they’re set up for success is paramount to me,” Prinz-Arey added. She noted Oakland, California created an effective social equity program worth reviewing as a model.

She added that an oversight committee should track the funds, comparable to the Open Space Trust Fund Committee.

Jersey City Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano initially seemed skeptical of the value of cannabis reform. He mentioned traffic accidents in Colorado. But then he came around. Boggiano explained he supported funding going to schools.

“I think one we need to put a portion of this money toward the public schools,” Ward E Councilman James Solomon added, reminding his colleagues that they are currently slated to lose $100 million in state funding next year.

“We have to do everything in our ability to address that,” Solomon said.

He acknowledged that the marijuana tax alone wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference.

Debating Spending Money

Additionally, Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera said he wasn’t sure if this would necessarily be money well spent.

“We don’t have any type of control ya know, over the budget of the school district. My concern is that ya know, us giving them an open door without any accountability is a little concerning,” At Large Councilman Daniel Rivera said.

He also liked the idea of a committee overseeing and controlling the funds.

“There are teachers in our public schools in the Jersey City public school system, and in the summer, they spend thousands and thousands of dollars of their own money to prepare themselves for a September start. The school system doesn’t provide a lot. That concerns me because their budget is pretty big,” Rivera added.

Council President Joyce Watterman chimed in that she favored both a social justice and a school component.

“School should get something. Social justice should receive something, and there should be some type of oversight,” she stated.

“How do we get this done? What percentage do we think should go where? What type of board structure can we do legally?”

Councilman Rolando Lavarro noted the money was supposed to go to the Jersey City public schools, as he and Solomon had proposed in back in October.

He noted it’s difficult to estimate projections. Therefore he suggested they dedicate the first $2.5 million to the schools before figuring out other allocations.

He noted Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, who, along with Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh, was absent, submitted comments saying he wanted taxes to fund social equity, recreation, and trade schools.

What Programs to Fund?

Rivera said that if $2.5 million goes to schools, there will likely be little money for other programs, while Ridley liked the idea of percentages assigned to the funds.

Furthermore, Watterman said most of the money should go to social justice.

“If it hadn’t been for the cannabis or marijuana law. A lot of people’s lives would not have been destroyed. You can’t ignore that to me,” Watterman said.

She noted people with criminal records have difficulty finding employment.

Prinz-Arey noted they don’t know how many businesses will succeed or fail, making estimations difficult.

“We also want to make sure whatever the percentages are there ultimately going to be effective in the goal,” she said.

Comparable Models Available

Business Administrator John Metro said the funds could be collected as a tax and be distributed, like the Open Space Fund.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Amy Forman indicated the council could accept the ordinance as currently written, where the funds are unallocated as long as the tax itself is imposed so that the manner in which the money is spent could be decided later.

Solomon suggested they should move forward with the tax that will go to a fund overseen by a committee like the Open Space or Arts Trust Funds.

“I’ll just throw out a potential proposal which would be for us to move forward with the tax, say in the tax that our initial allocation would be 50 percent towards education, 50 percent towards social equity, rawly defined, we don’t have to go into specifics, and then to get that on the books before the August 21st deadline and then for us as a council to work on the creation of committees that will kind of determine the distribution of funds,” he said.

His colleagues all responded that they thought the changes were a good idea.

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