The Princeton Cannabis Task Force’s efforts to enact a pro-legalization ordinance centered on social equity have been hindered by anti-cannabis opposition.
Princeton formed its Cannabis Task Force last spring. Among the Task Force members are Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR) (with whom I serve on the NJ United for Marijuana Reform coalition, full disclosure) along with Udi Ofer of the ACLU who initially led the coalition, and cannabis consultant Hugh O’Beirne, among others.
The Task Force sought to include a range of professionals and community leaders to guide cannabis legalization efforts. They sought to be thorough in their deliberations. Thus, Task Force Chair Councilwoman Eve Niedergang (D) noted last spring that the Princeton Cannabis Task Force would not meet the deadline of August 19th last summer by towns had to pass a law. So, the council passed a temporary ban. She noted that local government officials were very busy in the first place, and the ordinance process is not conducive to quick passage.
As part of their process, they spoke to government officials in a few New Jersey towns where medical cannabis dispensaries are located, and their possible negative effects. Niedergang noted they spoke a great deal with Maplewood which passed a cannabis ordinance with social equity provisions in December.
She added that the Princeton Cannabis Task Force also had many conversations with people living near dispensaries in Portland, Oregon, Denver, Colorado, and similar college towns in Massachusetts.
“No one has brought up any concerns. They reported that the cannabis dispensaries have been good partners and parts of the community. So, the concerns parents have expressed that this will increase use by having a dispensary, that it will increase crime, decrease property values, none of that is sustained by individuals living in communities in New Jersey that have dispensaries,” Niedergang said.
“We really tried to do due diligence on what the effect has been,” she added. “We would never do anything to harm the children of our community.”
They ultimately recommended that of the six license classes, Princeton should only allow dispensaries. Their report argued allowing more license categories would require more study. Given that Princeton does not have an industrial district with many warehouses, this makes sense.
Dispensaries would be allowed in the Dinky area/Alexander, Jugtown which is near the intersection of Harrison St. and Nassau St, the Central Business District, Witherspoon Street only between Green and Leigh Avenue, and 206 North at Cherry Valle.)
Niedergang noted she wanted to focus on allowing social equity businesses in town owned and staffed by local applicants, People of Color, and/or those negatively affected by the War on Drugs.
“We definitely would like to see a social equity approach,” she said.
The Task Force ultimately recommended three medical and adult-use dispensaries be allowed. They wanted at least one of the three dispensaries to go to a micro license and Social Equity applicant.
The micro license was designed so that entrepreneurs without access to significant capital could gain entry into the market by opening small businesses.
“The Task Force is happy with the recommendation. they made,” Niedergang said. “The decision on what to do now rests with the council.”
Unfortunately, the opposition has moved the question to whether any cannabis dispensaries would be allowed versus the nuances of legalization implementation.
“Those are all things we’ll get into assuming we go ahead with zoning,” Niedergang said regarding social equity provisions.
“The recommendations were very sound. The pushback from a group of Princeton residents who chose not to participate in the task force does not diminish the quality of the recommendations,” Nathan said.
Princeton Cannabis Dispensary Opposition
However, since the Princeton Cannabis Task Force released their report last year on November 30th, the opposition has bogged down efforts.
“I feel like the concerned parents are well-intentioned and care about the good of their community, “Niedergang said. “I don’t think the data supports their concerns.”
There has been a lot of pushback, specifically around the buffer zones and schools. The school district and its parents have become especially vocal. Thus, the meeting to debate implementing the Princeton Cannabis Task Force’s report was pushed back and forums were held.
The organization’s opposition’s anti-cannabis website has many links to Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a cannabis legalization opposition group funded by Patrick Kennedy who resigned from Congress in disgrace after his abuse of pills and alcohol became public. They are led by Kevin Sabet, who boasted about stopping New Jersey’s cannabis legalization efforts through the legislature in 2019. At one point, Sabet lived in Princeton.
Nathan said the opposition is “contradicting the well-established evidence that cannabis legalization does not increase underage use.”
While they’re entitled to their own opinions about the morality of cannabis use, “they’re not entitled to contradict the science,” he added.
Nathan said during one meeting, a woman claimed her son died of a marijuana overdose. He wanted details since it would be the first-ever record death in medical history due to marijuana. However, the woman never followed up with him.
“They’re looking at different data and different studies and coming to different conclusions,” Niedergang said.
She praised a study that did not show increased youth usage since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado.
Nathan said he has sought to push against the ignorance and bias that has especially harmed People of Color.
“I do believe in the indications we have that most people in the community are fine with this given the rate people voted for legalization,” Niedergang said.
She noted the referendum passed by almost 80 percent in Princeton.
“I hear the concerns. It’s something new and different,” she said. “I want residents of the community to feel like they’ve had a full hearing.”
Niedergang encouraged people to reach out and come to the council meeting on Tuesday, March 29th, when the public Princeton cannabis debate will resume.
She noted there has been no organized local public support of the Task Force’s efforts.
“People don’t realize they need to step forward and play a public role,” Niedergang said.
She said the opposition is relatively small versus those who complained about permit parking on Princeton’s thoroughfares, leaf blower noise, and artificial turf in a park.