The Englewood Cannabis Committee recommended a pro-Social Equity influenced bill that permitted a robust market.
Englewood is in Bergen County.
Englewood Cannabis Committee Co-Chair Sarah Russell recommended a market with a low barrier to entry to all license classes in the industrial district of the city.
“You’re not introducing it. You’re regulating it,” she said noting crime rates are stable or decrease in towns with cannabis dispensaries. “We know the War on Drugs disproportionately harmed communities of color.”
She noted they invited Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana (M4MM) vet advocate and consultant and veteran advocate Leo Bridgewater and Massachusetts Cannabis Commission Chair Stephen Hoffman to consult on their law.
“As a Black entrepreneur, he helped us understand the hurdles minorities face because it’s so expensive,” she said about Bridgewater.
The committee also included the police chief and downtown business owners.
“Municipalities will opt-in after this first wave,” Russell said. “There’s already a thriving illegal industry here. We’re just regulating it.”
She noted there was an unlicensed cannabis business shut down on Rt. 4 selling Englewood.
“To start a regulated cannabis business is expensive. It’s often hard for some groups to have access to capital,” Russell explained.
She noted that ancillary companies often charge cannabis companies more. High fees of attorneys and consultants are also difficult to pay.
The Englewood Cannabis Committee agreed on common goals of safety, Social Equity, diversity, limiting barriers to entry, facilitating access to capital, creating jobs, and minimizing the impact. Russell noted they did not agree on what should be the most important goals, though.
“We don’t want to ignore this industry’s past,” she said. “Social Equity should be the driving force to launching this in Englewood.”
Russell also advocated for expungement clinics to be held.
“Englewood should prioritize diversity and social equity applications
She did not want high fees or a limit on the number of licenses.
“If we want to foster jobs and entrepreneurship in Englewood, this is a good tool,” Russell said about micro-businesses.
Englewood Cannabis Committee and the Council
“Sarah, you did a fantastic job as did your committee,” Mayor Michael Wildes said. “If we didn’t get in early, we would be marginalized if we were too late. And I don’t think we’re too late.”
“There is a prejudice against the vaping industry… and there is pushback. How do you stop that culture?” he asked.
“There’s a stigma around all this, unfortunately. Regulating it… is going to make it safer,” Russell said.
“Terrific report. Should I intuit that your community didn’t put any limitations on any category?” Councilwoman Judie Maron asked.
“That’s correct. As long it’s in the right zone, the industrial zone,” Russell said. “It won’t be any different from any other wholesale business.”
“Terrific Sarah, thank you very much,” Maron said.
“If it’s in the industrial zone, you’ll have to come through the 4th ward. That’s where we’ve had drug issues. How do we protect our youth? “I don’t want kids targeted leaving those shops, and then they get pulled over,” Councilman Charles Cobb said.
“Social Equity, we seem to be short on that in Englewood. I’m a little cautious to hand out licenses to everybody. I think it should be a very tough but fair process,” he added. “How are we going to ensure we’re going to protect the people? I want them to be successful in that business and contribute. Let’s talk about how this impacts the young people.”
“Teen use… tends to actually goes down because someone is actually checking IDs,” Russell said.
“I don’t have to buy it. I can send someone to buy it. I’m just playing the devil’s advocate,” Cobb said.
“Creating those businesses is not creating an industry. If you want to buy weed today in Englewood, you can,” Russell said.
She noted there are Drug Recognition Experts Englewood police officers are already being trained in such techniques.
“There are taboos the community has about this that are not necessarily on point,” Councilman Michael Cohen said.
He liked the idea of cannabis education seminars to dispel myths.
“I had the hardest time in the world even getting people sitting on this committee,” Cohen said. “There has to be a community education perspective. It’s no different than any business. There’s more lucrative places to get cash from.”
He added he was interested in businesses working with banks.
Russell said Hoffman said he had worked with local banks to get them on board to help with the issue of cash. She said there are three or four pro-cannabis banks in New Jersey.
“My recommendation would be before the council would be to … request of this committee with your leadership to drill into those specifics at this point,” Cohen said. “If we’re not too late already, we’re getting pretty close to it. Look around at all the towns around us.”
“Does it make a difference in how many you have?” Cohen asked about licenses.
“The less of a free market you have, the higher the green tax,” Russell said.
“Thank you for your time,” Councilman Ken Rosenzweig said. “We’ll have to figure out how the council wants to proceed.”
He noted the Englewood Cannabis Committee could assist with that.