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Paterson Cannabis in Jeopardy as Council Tables Ordinance’s First Reading

Paterson cannabis as an industry is in jeopardy as their City Council unanimously tabled their first-reading legalization ordinance as cannabis activists spoke in favor and against it.

An ordinance needs to pass a city council on two readings to become law. 

The council was initially going to pass a cannabis ordinance that would allow six businesses of all six types of cannabis licenses, leading to the possibility of 36 Paterson cannabis facilities. While the ordinance does have high application and renewal fees, there is a provision to lower it from $40 to $60,000 by 25 to 50 percent if the applicant is a minority, woman, or veteran-owned, half the staff is from the city, or they do a certain amount of business with firms based in the city. Paterson cannabis businesses must be 200 ft away from schools, houses of worship, and private residences.

Cannabis Advocates Speak Out

But many have mobilized against it, which has led cannabis proponents to countermobilize.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh favors cannabis. But Paterson is a fractious place. Councilman Alex Mendez, whose actions were used by former President Donald Trump as proof of voter fraud stemming from Paterson’s spring election during the presidential election last year, is skeptical of the details of cannabis. 

At the end of the meeting, a councilwoman said there would be a town hall between now and the next council meeting on August 4th.

“Cannabis saved my life,” Carlos Bruno said.  

Bruno is the Managing Director of Urban Leaf, a hemp company vying for a full license, as well as Piffy, which seeks a delivery license. Born and raised in Paterson, Bruno lived in Colorado for a few years to be in the cannabis industry. 

Cannabis Legalization for Prosperity

He said that his company Urban Leaf put together a study using Zillow and the Census on property values in Colorado, where adult-use cannabis was first available for purchase in 2014. They found that property values increased overall between April 2017 and April 2021.

“Legalizations boost jobs and economic growth,” he said. 

“It’s kinda like a win-win,” Bruno said. 

“I’m hoping we can get it done,” he added.

Bruno lamented there is a lot of confusion and miseducation around the plant. 

“We’re fine with going into the outskirts,” Bruno said regarding where cannabis companies would be allowed.

Paterson BOE member Corey Teague was against developing a Paterson cannabis industry. He was also in support of a Jamaica Day in town.

(Think about that for a minute.)

He confused serious heroin addiction with using cannabis and used it as a reason to be against cannabis.

Unfortunately, he was not the only person against a Paterson Cannabis industry. No one against cannabis offered an alternative to spur the city’s economy via private industry.

Advocating for Paterson Cannabis

A man named James Brown made the crucial difference between pills and heroin versus cannabis. He noted he was an addict in the past.

“It didn’t start with marijuana. It started with heroin,” Brown said to the applause of the crowd in attendance. 

“This is an economic thing that’s happening, he added. 

“Paterson needs the money, Brown said. “I don’t want it to go to Woodland Park.”

“I’m looking for some jobs for the people in my community,” he added.

“You need to get some taxes, Brown said. “We need some roads fixed.”

He noted that the city could use the revenue to cope with trees and maintenance projects.

Many staffers for GTI Rise, a Multi-State Operator (MSO) medical cannabis dispensary based in the city, spoke at the meeting in favor of an adult-use Paterson cannabis industry.

Benefits Noted By NJ Cannabis Activists

“We don’t sell to minors,” said Phillip Green, who works for GTI Rise as a security guard.

He spoke well of his employer on how they handle patient care and diversity.

“We follow Health Department guidelines to the T,” he added.

“Today, there aren’t many brand new industries serving Paterson,” he said. 

He said the others working there are “the most colorful bunch you could find.”

Green noted he’s a firefighter as well and worked previously as a police officer.

“Never in my career have I seen it fuel a domestic dispute,” he said. 

Green said it was an opportunity for Paterson to be at the forefront of a new industry.

Dr. Alfred Kulik explained the many health benefits of cannabis.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” he said regarding his medical practice. 

Medical Cannabis Benefits Explained

Kulik said he has successfully treated patients with cancer, including children with tumors and kids with autism receiving successful treatment using medical cannabis.

He made the distinction between legalizing cannabis and harder drugs. 

“Oh hell no. There’s some stuff out there that definitely should be illegal,” Kulik added. “In fact, if you make the distinctions, you’ll free up the resources to crack down on the bad stuff.”

He noted that he could tell stories of the great health benefits of helping treat autistic children. But he often must first counteract misinformation about it. 

“Marijuana is not a gateway drug to heroin, end of the story. “If anything, it’s a gateway drug out,” Kulik said. He noted it helps people stop using opiates.

He noted cannabis prohibition was racist and greedy in nature (more on that in Cannabis 101).

The General Manager of the Paterson Rise Toni Belli dispensary noted she is a local. Belli praised the company and sought to assure the council of their ability to follow the rules guarding against worst-case scenarios.

“This is a highly, highly regulated industry,” she noted.

GTI Rise cultivation General manager Dennis Johson said their starting salary is $16 an hour.

“We need to destigmatize that and destigmatize our culture,” he said.

“Cannabis, for me, is freedom,” Johnson added.

Paterson and Industry

Paterson is where the Industrial Revolution arguably started in the United States with founding father Alexander Hamilton’s designs for harnessing the power of the Great Falls. It then became an industrial bastion producing all sorts of textiles and clothes. Colt guns and silk industries were prominent products made in the city at its height. However, with those factories closed, a quarter of the city lives in poverty

It has come back partly as a center for Hispanic immigrant communities, especially Peruvians and Muslims from different countries.

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