Monroe officials introduce proposal prohibiting cannabis businesses in municipality

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PHOTO COURTESY OF VALLEY WELLNESS
Mercer County Community College is accepting registration for its new Medical Cannabis Training Course.

By MADELEINE MACCAR

Correspondent

The Monroe Township Council convened for a combined agenda and regular meeting on June 2 via Zoom. Members commenced with the evening’s agenda items in the first half of the meeting.

Three previously introduced ordinances received their second readings: O-5-2021-011 focuses on creating an Economic Development Advisory Board; O-5-2021-012 amends the township code with a minor change to its stormwater management section in regard to the definition of “environmentally constrained area” per Middlesex Township’s request and adding an item assuring a two-year maintenance guarantee in accordance with state statute; and O-5-2021-013 approves an amendment both exceeding the municipal budget appropriation limits and establishing a cap bank, which council was adamant in emphasizing came with no substantive changes.

The trio of items were opened to public comment during their public hearing during the regular meeting that began nearly an hour later.

As previously explained by Township Business Administrator Alan Weinberg, authorizing emergency temporary appropriations is part of the standard procedure of funding municipal operations until the calendar year’s budget is finalized, and is done so at a prescribed amount according to the previous year’s budget.

Weinberg also explained Resolution R-6-2021-151, which was a late addition to the meeting agenda and among those items separated from the consent agenda for individual discussion. The township is upgrading to a high-band radio system connecting its various departments and fire districts. A shared service agreement with the county proved to be beneficial to fire districts 1 and 3; current plans aim to get “everybody up and running by August, or soon after.”

One ordinance up for introduction was O-6-2021-015. It would create a new chapter in the township code prohibiting the operation of any licensed cannabis businesses within Monroe’s geographical boundaries.

A number of calls during the agenda-item public comment expressed interest in the new ordinance, with one resident wondering if limiting options exclusively to the medicinal side of the business rather than its recreational elements could present a viable alternative to blanket prohibition.

The council explained that a medicinal dispensary requires a different license than retail sites, and added that township legislation doesn’t supersede that of the state: Monroe can limit consumption and distribution sites but a retailer would be able to sell any products New Jersey now deems legal to use.

Andrew Abere, a resident who said he’s both an economics professor and consultant, noted that since attempts like cigarette and soda taxes only seem to direct consumers to towns where they’re more readily available and less expensive, a ban on marijuana sellers might ultimately have an adverse effect on overall tax revenues and economic activity.

Other residents expressed their opposition to even allowing cannabis in the Monroe Township community in the first place or questioned council’s priorities, while some sought further clarification on Councilman Terence Van Dzura’s report about revenue potential.

Council members assured residents that there will be a public hearing about the ordinance at its second reading, which will be held during the June 28 council meeting.

The council also explained how the municipal budget is only reviewed by the Division of Local Government Services once every three years, just as it’s done for the state’s other 564 other municipalities. As 2021 is a self-examination year, Monroe Township examines the budget internally and then presents it to the division.

Resolution R-6-2021-150 authorized awarding a contract to CME Engineering in regard to the 25% capped BFI Republic Landfill, which also generated further conversations between council members and residents during both public comment sessions, particularly in terms of seepage discharging hazardous materials into the community.

Council members explained that CME was selected after a request for proposals went out at the end of 2020, highlighting the fact that the engineering firm also has a qualified landfill expert.

The regular meeting then began with the proclamation recognizing the Click It or Ticket program running from May 24 through June 6, a national endeavor aiming to minimize vehicular deaths during the week preceding and following Memorial Day and its unofficial onset of summer.

During the public hearings for ordinances 011-13, many of which requested clarity on proposals they found ambiguous, Weinberg reread the purpose of the Economic Development Advisory Board to clarify its purpose: “[It] shall promote economic growth and job creation in the township by uniting local businesses in the township and the township’s elected officials to share ideas and maximize strengths and assets of our community and its workforce. The Economic Development Advisory Board’s mission is to advise the mayor and council regarding policies and programs to attract new businesses that will add to the township’s already strong and diverse economic community, and policies aimed to retain and support existing businesses.”

The council formally adopted the ordinance authorizing the creation of the Economic Development Advisory Board.

Regarding 012, the stormwater management amendment, the council explained that the ordinance pertains to the development of properties, rather than structures and residences already in place. It would, however, apply to developed lots of a certain size if the owner were to undertake major redevelopments and the property exists within a stormwater management basin’s environmentally constrained area.

Council members noted that the plans were developed using a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection-approved template and state-required ordinance, and that two changes were added on behalf of Middlesex County officials upon their review.

The stormwater management amendments come in response to new statewide regulations that took effect in early March.

The council also adopted ordinance O-5-2021-012 after its public hearing yielded additional feedback and questions, while 013 was adopted without anyone from the public venturing additional comment.

When the evening’s first-read ordinances were officially presented for a council vote, the ordinance proposing a ban on cannabis businesses operating within the township received three aye votes from council and two abstentions.

As the municipal budget was introduced at council’s May 3 meeting, its public hearing was held at the June 2 meeting, which yielded no comments from residents.

The council’s next combined agenda and regular meeting will be June 28.

Visit monroetwp.com for more information.