The Hightstown Borough Council has approved an ordinance that would ban the sale, package, distribution and cultivation of cannabis, despite opposition from some residents and a union representative who claimed it would create new jobs.
The Hightstown Borough Council voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance at its May 17 meeting. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Josh Jackson, who pointed to the potential for new businesses and jobs.
The delivery of cannabis by a delivery service is not affected.
The ordinance is an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance, which determines how land may be used and developed. Hightstown Borough faced a state-imposed Aug. 21 deadline to decide whether to allow cannabis businesses to operate in town.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act, which legalizes recreational marijuana use by persons who are at least 21 years old, states that a town may prohibit the operation of any one of several classes of cannabis businesses – cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and sale – by adopting an ordinance.
If a town did not act to ban any or all cannabis-related businesses by the Aug. 21 deadline, the businesses would be allowed to operate in all industrial zones. The retail sale of cannabis products would be permitted as a conditional use in all commercial and retail zones for five years.
At the end of the five-year period, a town would have six months to adopt an ordinance to regulate or ban the businesses. However, the ordinance would not apply to businesses already operating in the town.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing adult-use (recreational) marijuana in a statewide referendum in November 2020 by a vote of 2.7 million votes to 1.3 million votes. In Hightstown, it was approved by a vote of 1,833 to 719.
When the Hightstown Borough Council meeting was opened for public comment on the ordinance, several residents urged the council to approve the ordinance. The thread that ran through most of the comments was job creation.
Hugh Giordano, who represents the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 152, said the cannabis industry would provide good jobs and wages, and that it would attract hardworking people who are interested in a long-term career.
Resident Alex Pineda also urged the Borough Council to reject the ordinance in favor of allowing cannabis businesses to open in town. Colorado’s approval of the use of recreational marijuana created hundreds of jobs, he said.
Pineda said that if Hightstown does not permit cannabis to be grown or sold in town, people will go to other towns that do permit it. Hightstown could keep that money in town, rather than for people to go elsewhere to buy cannabis.
Resident Geoff Trapp said the potential to create new businesses would have the spinoff effect of supporting other businesses in Hightstown, and that having a business that would be unique to Hightstown would bring people here.
“It would be a shame to pass on this opportunity. I would like to see Hightstown be in the forefront,” Trapp said. “We are not concerned about a ‘bad element’ coming to our town. (The buyers) would be responsible adults to who are looking for something different.”
But resident Eugene Serafin urged the Hightstown Borough Council to adopt the ordinance because officials would not be able to get enough information by the Aug. 21 deadline. The council needs more time to study the issue and decide if it wants to sell cannabis in Hightstown, he said.
“We can take our time and come back in September (with more information). I have no problem supporting (the sale and recreational use of) cannabis. We voted for it,” Serafin said.
Councilmen Steve Misiura and Dimitri Musing said the issue was more of a technical one that involves the zoning ordinance and the determination of where such businesses should be allowed to open – not whether they supported or opposed recreational use of marijuana.
“From my experience, we need to regulate where we want it to occur. I understand that Hightstown voters said ‘yes,’ but we have to tailor the legislation to suit our town. It is more important to get it done right than to get it done quickly,” Misiura said.
Councilman Joseph Cicalese assured the meeting attendees that their comments were heard, but the problem is that it’s a matter of timing and process.
“I had planned to vote against the ordinance originally, but I am convinced there is a way to move forward and allow it later,” Cicalese said.