Would you sign a mortgage not knowing the terms and conditions? Would you accept a doctor’s recommendation for surgery if the doctor said, “I need money. I’ll send you to the hospital and do an appendectomy, brain surgery or maybe a heart bypass. Not sure what I’ll do until we’re there, so just say yes.”
Of course not, no one would.
Yet, that is exactly what the state wants Cranbury and other towns to do if they decide to opt-in to participate in the new marijuana laws.
Towns that opt-in or make no decision to ban recreational sales, distribution, wholesale and cultivation will not legally be allowed to opt-out for a 5-year period regardless of the impact on the community. If a town opts in and experiences a major negative impact the state’s view is buyer beware. Legislators have advised the laws will continue to change over the next 12-18 months at minimum.
I have spent over 200 hours reading studies, talking with people in various states and studying this issue since late 2017.
The NSDUH estimated the number of marijuana users in New Jersey was 832,000 in fiscal year 2016 (NSDUH, 2017) and is estimated at over 1 million now with more anticipated due to legalization.
Proponents argue that marijuana sales and liquor sales are equal and highlight that Cranbury allows liquor today. That argument is philosophical and inaccurate scientifically and economically.
Over a thousand liquor licenses exist in New Jersey (Cranbury has three alone) by comparison there will only be a handful of recreational stores based on the limited grow licenses (37). Most estimates by officials in Trenton cite 10 or less recreational sales centers will be in New Jersey over the next 3-5 years. Even my 7-year-old twins recognize that 10 is a much lower number than a thousand, but then again, they aren’t smoking pot which impairs cognitive functions.
Biologically with alcohol you can sense the effect and cut yourself off, while marijuana has a delayed effect.
Based on studies from several independent sources (not those funded by the cannabis lobby) including schools and hospitals and in speaking with realtors, law enforcement, physicians, and others where it is legal, Cranbury can anticipate the following:
- Increased youth usage – Youth usage increased in towns and states where recreational sales are legal and sold. Proponents including some on our Township Committee have argued put it on the other side of Route 130 by Monroe. News flash: there are kids there, too. The one buildable plot is approximately a mile away from four schools and within easy walking distance to 300 homes. I am all for protecting our right to zone, but that comes with responsibility too. Placing kids at a higher risk to ingest marijuana is probably top of the list of things we should not do. I don’t blame you for not wanting to read the studies, so think of how many teens have fake IDs, find adults who purchase liquor for them, or just any high school party.
- Declining home value – Those who cite studies on increasing home value stop at the headline that mixes all towns, residential and commercial and pharma and recreational sales. Similar towns to Cranbury – affluent, have high residential values, are not tourist destinations, and are surrounded by similar communities – have all seen their property values decline by 5-20% where recreational sales are permitted. I am pretty sure Monroe would also be at a disadvantage if we put a pot shop next to their four schools and houses. Again, you can ignore the studies and apply common sense. Most people with kids and a choice between a town with a pot shop and one without will go to the non-wacky weed town.
- Increased traffic and safety issues – If New Jersey users visit the estimated 10 recreational sales sites equally, then 100,000 New Jersey residents will be coming into Cranbury and traveling through our town, South Brunswick, Monroe and East Windsor. Our roadways and police cannot handle this level of traffic. It will require more police and infrastructure. If you think our neighbors didn’t like truck traffic, just wait until their police are dealing with DUIs coming from Cranbury.
- Increased DUI offenses – Law enforcement studies show increased violations and accidents from impaired drivers. Again, forget reading. Look at any parking lot where liquor is sold. Small vials of liquor are smashed on the ground all around. The same will happen with pot. God help us if a child is ever killed.
- Impact to our parks – People in favor cite the smoking ban in public spaces. However, that does not stop people from smoking cigarettes in or parks today. We have leash laws, no parking fines for the grass in Heritage Park, and a snow clearance ordinance for sidewalks. Yet we don’t have the resources to enforce them. If we cannot enforce keeping a dog on a leash or smoking in a park today how can we be capable of controlling pot smokers all day long. What happens they get in their car impaired?
- Loss of preserved farmland – Presently, we have a 40,000-square-foot facility being erected on preserved farmland on the other side of Route 130. These are warehouse-style complexes with truck traffic to compound the issue. Imagine if instead of a beautiful vista from the new library we are looking at an industrial complex on the Old Danser farm on Plainsboro Road with trucks entering and exiting all day. There is irony that after years of planning for a library with a view of preserved farmland we would find it is now looking at a warehouse.
- Taxes – Will we sell out our kids and towns for 2% of each sale? If a company does $1 million in sales, we get $20,000. If we lose 5-20% of home value as studies project then not only does home value individually decrease, but so does our tax revenue – several hundred thousand in lost tax revenue at 5% and well over a million at 20% based on today’s budget. However, that does not account for additional costs in police, road improvements and other impacts. Because the committee opted in we’re left increasing taxes on residents, we’ve destroyed our community, likely the quality of the school, and our home values. Again, my twins realize $20,000 is a lot less than a million, even when using the new math.
For the above reasons it would seem logical that our Township Committee would vote 5-0 to opt out. After all, everyone runs on a platform of keeping our historic character, protecting our youth, and preserving farmland. No one runs on “elect me” and together we’ll ruin our town and put kids at risk.
Residents should realize we have a medical marijuana facility today in town that is grandfathered for that use. They have begun the process of building grow houses on preserved farmland which is again grandfathered.
These existing uses put Cranbury at increased risk for a negative impact on our town if we opt in. It is imperative that we represent our residents and children. We are negligent if we do not. We heard our residents clearly ask that we opt out until we know more. That makes sense. A future committee can always revisit opting in when laws are clarified and experience in like towns in New Jersey is known. I support our residents, historic character, our farmland and more importantly our children. We should remove the doubt and opt out.
Cranbury Township Committee
Note: The views expressed are that of Councilman Taylor and not of the other members of the committee.