Highland Park passed a first reading ordinance allowing adult-use and medical dispensaries, delivery headquarters, and cannabis consumption lounges.
They would be the third town to allow cannabis consumption lounges after Atlantic City and Jersey City.
All the dispensaries will be allowed to operate a cannabis consumption lounge. There could be up to six dispensaries in town.
Town attorney Ed Schmierer said the ordinance follows the state bill S 21 signed by Murphy which says dispensaries are allowed to operate lounges. He noted air in a cannabis consumption lounge cannot escape. Schmierer said Highland Park is having a special meeting on August 17th so that the law passes in time for the August 21st deadline.
Highland Park is also implementing the two percent tax towns have the option to impose on adult-use cannabis sales.
Councilman Matt Hersh (D), a cannabis proponent, noted Highland Park is a smaller town that doesn’t have the space for the cannabis businesses that need space like manufacturing, growing, distributing, and wholesaling.
Approving a Cannabis Consumption Law
Council President and Acting Mayor Phillip George (D) noted they discussed the cannabis ordinance a great deal last week. While he initially had concerns with second-hand smoke, they were addressed in the revised draft of the ordinance.
George noted the excluded classes were discussed widely at their previous meeting but not found to be practical.
“I enthusiastically vote yes,” Hersh said.
“I don’t want anyone to think we’re doing this for the dollar signs,” Hersh said. “This is a justice issue.”
He made it clear it was not being turned done to turn city hall into a party.
“The prohibition on recreational marijuana has resulted in profound and unreversible levels of incarcerations in Black and Brown communities,” he added. “This righting a wrong.”
Hersh noted the November legalization referendum passed Highland Park by 70 percent.
“It’s a new industry in the state,” he said, adding cannabis tax revenue can go towards funding education and other social programs.
Hersh also noted he was in favor of homegrow.
“Prohibition hasn’t worked,” he said. Hersh explained that enforcing cannabis prohibitions distracts police from focusing on more serious crimes.
Hersh added there are liquor stores within 1,000 ft of some schools in town. He said alcohol is worse for you, and cannabis is far safer and less toxic. Hersh explained the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says 30,000 Americans die of alcohol each year, and no one has died from consuming cannabis.
Councilwoman Stephany Kim Choan (D) noted they discussed lounges as well. She said they’re looking to be “different and make Highland Park attractive in the cannabis market.”
She explained they want to ensure that people from Highland Park shop locally versus visiting dispensaries in neighboring towns.
“But if we don’t do it, we don’t try; it’s going to right to New Brunswick and Edison,” she added.
Kim Choan noted cannabis sales would bring a stream of revenue into town.
Board of Education member Michelle M. McFadden-DiNicola said cannabis was made illegal for racist reasons.
She said profits from cannabis sales should go to Black Americans who suffered some of the great harm of the War on Drugs. McFadden-DiNicola said arguments against legalization are similar to those against alcohol in prohibition. She noted alcohol is very easy to obtain and does more damage to the human body.
Leading cannabis opponent David Evans, who has been fighting a losing battle against legalization, spoke at the meeting and brought up many popular misconceptions regarding legalization. Evans wants to fight the legalization using the RICO law, which brought down the Mafia. Dan Stern Cardinale of Highland Park said it’s good for the town to allow cannabis businesses. He lauded them for not buying into reefer madness propaganda.