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Princeton Sets Up Cannabis Task Force and Garfield Begins Study

Princeton is setting up a cannabis task force to examine possible reforms and allowing a dispensary, while Garfield has commissioned a study on whether they can have a dispensary.

While it will be several months before legal adult-use cannabis is sold in New Jersey, a lot of what’s happening with cannabis will happen on the municipal level.

Towns must approve or disapprove cannabis establishments before they are allowed to open within their limits. They have until August 21, 2021, within 180 days or six months of the legalization’s signature, to enact a ban on a dispensary in town.

Many conservative towns are eager to continue their prohibitionist policies. Despite the legalization law repealing old prohibitionist municipal ordinances, many rural places are eager to maintain prohibition.

Police in multiple towns and their interest groups are especially unhappy that “probable cause” can no longer be used to justify a police search based on the smell of cannabis. These are often the same interest groups that condone police brutality. They’re also unhappy that parents or guardians cannot be notified if an underage individual is caught with cannabis possession, but that may change soon.

Princeton Cannabis Task Force Established

Councilwoman Eve Niedergang, a Democrat, is leading the effort to set up a cannabis task force along with Council President Leticia Fraga and Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros.

“We’ve been anticipating this for a long time.,” Niedergang said, noting they had planned to set up a cannabis taskforce before legalization was signed into law.

Certain stakeholders from the community will be appointed, including someone to represent the police, medicine, youth and family services, Princeton University, the Princeton senior center, a local social justice group called Not in Our Town, the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, the pro-cannabis Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSD), the business community, and the school district.

“We’re trying to get all viewpoints involved,” she said.

“We’re lucky enough in Princeton to have people with tremendous backgrounds in various areas and help us make good decisions,” Niedergang said. “It’s always better to involve the community. I certainly have no expertise in this area.”

She stressed that the commission’s point is not to fight that adult-use cannabis has been legalized statewide.

“I’m completely agnostic. I want to learn about the pros and cons and be supportive of the data and the community,” Niedergang said.

However, Niedergang did reveal she voted for the referendum.

“I don’t think criminalizing drugs has worked out really well. I don’t think that’s the right way to do it,” she said, adding she believes in age restrictions.

“Do we want to allow some aspect of the industry in the community? If so, which aspect? Where and what type of regulation?” Niedergang asked rhetorically, noting they were big questions.

Along with whether a cannabis company should be allowed in town, they want to address how the youth are educated about cannabis “and what the municipality can do in terms of how policing and prosecuting drug offenses will be dealt with. We cannot tell the police prosecutor how to act, but we can indicate racial restorative justice is very important to us,” Niedergang said.

Niedergang noted there six different licenses could be awarded which they could approve in town which are:

1.       Retailers

2.       Growers

3.       Processors

4.       Wholesaler Warehouses

5.       B2B Distributors

6.       Deliveries

One of the questions Niedergang wants to be answered is: What kind of traffic would it bring to town? What kind of benefits could we get from it? She also noted a municipal tax could be imposed.

She thought that a cannabis developer might contribute to a community project the way othes do for other businesses.

“I don’t know what the costs and benefits are,” she said.

The cannabis taskforce’s work could take six to eight months. After a long process, Niedergang said they could say no to a cannabis busines in town in a worst-case scenario.

Niedergang noted that even if a dispensary is not recommended for Princeton, people can still get cannabis delivered from elsewhere.

“I think it’s a great idea to convene the task force,” said Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Reform (DFCR). He served on the NJ United for Marijuana Reform legalization coalition (along with myself representing the Latino Action Network, full disclosure). Nathan has been appointed to the task force already.

“The education going forward should focus on these kinds of issues and not a focus on the criminal justice aspect,” he said. “We had a lot of reefer madness education in Princeton when my kids were growing up. They talked about cannabis in ways that were clearly untrue.”

“I’m not sure whether we will have a dispensary here. I personally don’t have a problem with a dispensary in my neighborhood if it’s well regulated and well-run like the many dispensaries I’ve seen in legalized states,” Nathan said.

“Princeton can help achieve equity and provide restorative justice. That should also be a priority for us,” Nathan said.

“It should be no more controversial or less so than liquor stores, and Princeton has quite a few of those already,” he added regarding the dispensary decision.

Princeton is exactly the sort of place you would expect cannabis to be legal; a progressive college town. The fact that it’s the location of a preeminent American college that Michelle Obama, Ted Cruz, and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others attended and a wealthy area should not be hindrances.

The establishment of a taskforce versus simple passage of an ordinance shows the problem with cannabis reform and home rule in New Jersey, which grants towns a great deal of autonomy. After the fight is won on the state level, a separate fight and process has to be undertaken for every town for every dispensary that will be established. This is quite unfortunate.

Garfield, NJ Considers Dispensary

Garfield, NJ, is considering allowing a dispensary. The Bergen County town initially banned a dispensary in 2018. They voted to authorize City Manager Tom Duch to look into what places in town could have a dispensary. Duch said has he assigned two planners to do a study.

Garfield is only 2.1 square miles, so it might be difficult for them to allow one. Dispensaries are not allowed close to schools nor places of worship. Breakwater Dispensary ran into this issue in Red Bank.

“I don’t know all of the ins and outs of this, so that’s why we are looking into it now,” Councilman Joseph Delany said. “It doesn’t hurt to try and it doesn’t hurt to change your mind.”

Delany was previously against a dispensary from opening. While Garfield holds non-partisan elections, the Bergen Democrats backed the slate Delaney ran on.

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