The Princeton Cannabis Task Force favors temporarily opting out for fear of feeling rushed and lack of guidance from the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC).
Since the CRC hasn’t given towns any public guidance yet, it makes sense. They should have been seated before COVID since the Jake Honig Act, which established the CRC, was signed in July 2019.
“They’re very behind ultimately where they hoped to be,” Princeton Cannabis Task Force Chair Eve Niedergang said.
She explained they wanted to opt-out, which “gives us some time to understand what the regulations would be from the state.”
Niedergang noted the decision was based on the recommendation of the town’s attorney, who was not present at the meeting.
An attorney’s job is to be cautious to avoid going to court over lawsuits and losing.
A town would only forward with a cannabis ordinance and care about the CRC’s regulations if they wanted to allow a dispensary.
Niedergang said it’s not that they’re hostile to cannabis but rather want to conduct a thorough process, which is how they usually conduct business. For example, she said it took a year for her to work on an ordinance to allow chickens in backyards.
“Everything takes longer than anticipated,” she said.
Unlike in business and medicine, politicians and public officials often take a long time to carry out their functions, irrespective of the demands of activists most of the time. Sometimes it’s due to regulations and desire to get a lot of input into a process. Other times it’s a deliberate delay tactic.
For the Princeton Cannabis Task Force to meet the August 21st deadline imposed by the State, Niedergang said an ordinance would need to be introduced in June.
“It’s not enough time even if we’re raring to go,” she said. Niedergang noted pro-cannabis towns have already done a lot of the groundwork, like Bayonne and Plainfield, that they have not done. Dover, NJ, in Morris County is similarly opting out for time.
Citizen representative Colleen Exter noted many other towns are likely struggling as well.
Princeton is dealing with affordable housing and issues and with Princeton University Zoning Officer Derek Bridger noted.
“There’s not a lot of bandwidth right now,” he said.
“Are we precluding ourselves, maybe going to the back of the line?”
Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros asked if they opted out. She was concerned that Princeton might not get a license if the process is so competitive.
“This is not an opting out forever,” citizen representative Judson Odell said.
“I would just caution everybody in favor of opting out what that could turn into,” business community representative Dean Smith said. “It would make me feel a hell of a lot of more comfortable if there were a time frame.”
“I understand the concern that Dean and others raised,” Niedergang. “We do not want to lose a sense of urgency.”
“I’m certainly not seeing this as a delaying tactic,” Niedergang said. “I want to make sure we get it right.”
Smith noted it was difficult to discuss the municipal attorney’s recommendation without her in the meeting.
“The conversation is way too vague right now,” he added. “If we want to have a marijuana dispensary in this town, then let’s do that. If not, let’s not.”
“I’m concerned if we hold off on this opportunity until we get it just right, the opportunity may elude us,” ACLU leader Udi Ofer said.
He noted the value of “laying out a timeline of when we would want to come up with a final timeline.”
“We should have a clear idea of what opting out means,” cannabis scientist Abigail Kalmbach said.
Ofer noted the strong social justice component of the ordinance might take time and justify a temporary opt-out.
“You have to decide if you want it or not,” said Planning Director Michael La Place said. He added they cannot craft an ordinance without a decision on that.
Princeton Cannabis Task Force Discusses Merits of a Cannabiz
It was noted that foot traffic would be generated from a dispensary that could benefit the many other businesses in Princeton.
Bridger noted they do not have many warehouses in the first place where a cultivation facility could take place.
In response to concerns about minors getting cannabis, Dr. David Nathan of Doctors for Cannabis Regulations (with whom I serve on the ACLU-led pro-cannabis coalition representing the Latino Action Network, full disclosure) said that minors cannot access cannabis dispensaries product due to very strict controls.
“It’s nearly 100 percent,” he noted. “It’s certainly higher than stores for alcohol.”
Nathan noted that minors can buy cannabis from the underground market now.
Niedergang said they didn’t want long lines from a dispensary on Nassau Street, the main thoroughfare in Princeton, overwhelming traffic. Lambros said they should work on zoning issues that could address that.