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Jamesburg residents split on opinions for borough to opt in or out of marijuana ordinance

JAMESBURG–The Borough Council held a discussion about its potential decision to opt in or out of allowing cannabis establishments within the municipality.

On Feb. 22, Gov. Phil Murphy signed historic adult-use cannabis reform bills into law, legalizing and regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older and decriminalizing marijuana and hashish possession.

Due to this action, municipalities have 180 days, or until Aug. 21, to take action to either prohibit or limit the number of cannabis establishments, distributors or delivery services; the location, manner, and times of operation; and establishing civil penalties for violation of ordinances, according to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJLM).

More than 25 residents expressed their support and concerns about the borough’s proposed ordinance to either opt in or out of allowing marijuana establishments and licensing during the council meeting’s public comment portion via video conference on May 19.

Borough Attorney Fredrick Raffetto said with this ordinance, whether the council decides to opt out or decide to allow cannabis to some degree in Jamesburg, the ordinance does amend the borough’s land use and zoning section of the municipal code.

“Under the municipal land use law, any ordinance that’s a development regulation that amends the land use and zoning section of the code must, as a matter of law, be referred to the Land Use Board for review and a determination as to whether the ordinance is consistent with the master plan,” Raffetto said. “The Planning Board has a period of 35 days by law to act; if they don’t act within the 35-day period of time then the council is relieved of the referral requirement, but it must be referred to the land use board so that is a step that must be undertaken.”

Ultimately, Raffetto said some determination has to be made and some ordinance has to be adopted by the Aug. 21 deadline, or else officials are left in the position where the borough has no regulation.

Whether for or against cannabis, Raffetto said he doesn’t think the borough wants to be left in a position where it hasn’t taken action and is left with having no regulations whatsoever.

A municipality that fails to enact an ordinance prohibiting the operation of one or more classes of cannabis establishments before Aug. 21 is precluded from passing an ordinance banning the operation for a period of five years, according to the NJLM.

Under the law, Raffetto said the council has the ability to determine if it’s going to allow any of the licenses, which classes of license and what zoning districts marijuana establishment would be appropriate in. Then, any conditions or regulations that would be associated with those licenses, such as parking, buffering and odor.

For those who want the council to adopt an opt-out ordinance, several residents voiced concerns regarding children’s safety, increase in traffic and increase in policing costs.

Resident Shannon Spillane said she voiced her concern not just as a resident, but also as a crossing guard and land use board member.

“The only places that we could have a facility like that … would be in the central business district, which has a very high foot traffic area, particularly for children. The roads are crazy enough as it is. I’ve spoken before the council a few times regarding how dangerous it is and now we’re going to add [marijuana] to the mix. A bunch of high drivers on the road while the kids are out,” Spillane said. “This is a foot traffic-friendly town and now we’re going to add this to the mix for what sort of benefit? … I am very concerned from a public safety standpoint.”

Chief of Police James Craparotta said where marijuana is legalized, black market has increased.

“[This] means that is going to take more time from our agency who’s already strapped to the point that we can’t even handle what we have now,” Craparotta said. “With all the mandates, all the training, all the calls, all the different disturbances we have, and crimes that are being committed, that we have to go jump through hoops to do something that used to take five minutes now takes hours. sometimes days and weeks.”

Craparotta also cited statistics from Colorado regarding marijuana-related deaths, tax revenue and policing costs.

“As far as costs, one DUI arrest needs to have a [drug recognition evaluator] (DRE) and we’re going to need to train multiple officers to do this, and it’s many hours of training, which is going to cost many hours of police overtime,” Craparotta said. “The arresting officer is going to have to make a DUI arrest and a DRE is going to have to be called in to do an evaluation [that] takes six to eight hours. Now there will need to be multiple officers [present] for a DUI arrest if it includes marijuana.”

Craparotta said most people are responsible, but not everybody is. He said he believes it is going to cause a problem, a financial burden, and a staffing burden for the police department.

Several residents also expressed their support toward the council adopting an opt-in ordinance due to potential increase in tax revenue.

Attorney and Wyckoff resident David Smiley said he is interested in opening a cannabis business in an industrial area within the borough.

“I heard a lot of concerns just voiced recently about a dispensary which is why I’m proposing an alternative,” Smiley said. “I do understand that opening up a pot store in the middle of town would be a concern to people, but there is still a chance for Jamesburg to participate in this industry, which is basically a multi-billion dollar industry, without having to go as far as opening up a dispensary.”

With other licenses available, Smiley said the one that he’s interested in applying for is a cultivation license and that his potential business will have 24-hour security to ensure safety.

Understanding that this is a new process for everyone, Smiley said he wanted to be transparent and be a good teammate to the borough. He said he wanted to introduce himself and hopefully begin a dialogue.

Mayor Marlene Lowande clarified that the borough does not have an industrial area.

Hillside resident Joe Dillon, who is the owner of Ink Therapy Tattoo in Jamesburg, said he has been in this town for a long time and he has had some challenges, mostly with alcohol.

“I’m five years sober. This year I went under a lot of stress and got my medical marijuana card right. I fought it and I didn’t want to do it, but with this pandemic and everything that was going on [with] a child and a business, I was under a lot of stress,” Dillon said. “I can tell you, two liquor stores in town and multiple bars, a drug as a drug, alcohol is a drug, alcohol is the worst thing that I’ve put in my body, it destroys families, so as far as things go, marijuana is probably not that bad.”

Resident Bertin Lefkovic said marijuana is now legal so people in the borough are going to be consuming it. The only difference is whether they buy it in Jamesburg or they buy it somewhere else.

“So, if there are negative effects those negative effects are going to happen whether there’s a dispensary in town or not. The only thing is if we do not have a dispensary in town, we will not have any of the economic benefits,” Lefkovic said. “We’re talking about this being a family community; alcohol is legal but we didn’t have a problem with public drunkenness making this an unfriendly downtown and … environment.”

Lefkovic said everyone shouldn’t assume that since marijuana is now legal that marijuana use is suddenly going to change the culture of downtown and the borough as a whole. It’s going to be a business and it will be operated responsibly.

After thanking everyone who spoke, Lowande said if the governing body decides to adopt an opt in or out ordinance then it has to do this by next month, because the ordinance will need two readings so it can meet that Aug. 21 deadline.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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