By Philip Sean Curran
Cranbury is on course to toughen its public smoking ban early next year, part of a strategy the town is employing in response to the growing likelihood that recreational marijuana will become legal in the state.
The municipal Board of Health will change the current rules and make the Cranbury Police Department the enforcement agency for the smoking ban and expand the restriction to all municipally owned property.
At present, smoking in public is prohibited at Millstone, Heritage and Village parks, and at Cranbury Brook Preserve, with fines starting at $250 for a first offense.
Township Administrator Denise Marabello said on Nov. 26 that the Board of Health will take action next year, as the changes will be enacted through an ordinance that needs to be introduced in January and adopted in February. The board meets once a month, she said.
Once board members adopt the ordinance, the changes would take effect immediately, she said.
The timing comes as state lawmakers on Nov. 26 advanced legislation through Senate and Assembly committees to legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, to tax marijuana at 12 percent and to impose other regulations.
New Jersey would be the 11th state in the nation to legalize marijuana, with Michigan voters in November approving a referendum to make their state the latest to make marijuana legal.
“It is time to end the detrimental effect these archaic drug laws are having on our residents and our state,” state Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari, (D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset), a sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill, said in a statement.
“This bill will create a strictly regulated system that permits adults to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use. It will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades,” Scutari said.
In a news release, state Senate Democrats said towns “may prohibit the operation of a cannabis establishment for a period of five years at a time … .”
In a pre-emptive move, Township Committee members voted earlier this year to prohibit the retail sale of recreational marijuana in town, which is already home to a medical marijuana dispensary.
“I’d like to think Cranbury is ahead of curve,” Committeeman Daniel P. Mulligan III said on Nov. 27. “We’re actually trying to be progressive in this area to ensure there’s an orderly implementation of the state’s marijuana policies within Cranbury.
“It’s all about protecting Cranbury and making sure our best interests are in mind because the state is only worried about the bigger picture and tax revenue. I’m worried about the citizens of Cranbury and that we’re going to be treated fairly with these laws being in place. The least we can do is put a no-smoking ban in place on public property,” Mulligan said.
Cranbury is not alone among New Jersey towns in considering the implications of marijuana legalization. At the New Jersey State League of Municipalities convention earlier this month, a seminar on the topic drew a standing room only crowd.
“I think local towns are really beginning to kind of focus on what some of these potential implementation issues are going to be,” Mike Cerra, assistant executive director at the league, said on Nov. 27. “People know it’s coming and almost the inevitability of it, so now I think there’s been a little more focus on it.”
Mayor Glenn R. Johnson called the changes to the township’s smoking ban “related, but it’s tangential” to the steps lawmakers are taking with marijuana legalization.
“Basically, what we’re saying is that we don’t want any smoking on township property,” he said on Nov. 26.