If law passes, cannabis businesses may apply for licenses in Freehold Borough

FREEHOLD – The Borough Council is taking action to establish regulations for marijuana businesses that may eventually operate in Freehold Borough.

On June 7, council members introduced an ordinance that will, if adopted, establish where cannabis establishments may be permitted in the borough and how they may receive a  business license.

Council President Annette Jordan and council members Michael DiBenedetto, George Schnurr, Margaret Rogers and Adam Reich voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the ordinance. Councilwoman Sharon Shutzer voted “no” on the motion.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for June 21. Residents and interested parties may comment on the proposed ordinance at that time. The council may adopt the ordinance that evening.

The council’s action follows the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, also known as A-21, which was approved by state legislators in February after New Jersey voters in 2020 approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.

The legislation legalizes the recreational use (also known as adult use) of marijuana for certain adults, subject to state regulation; it decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and hashish (a marijuana concentrate); and it removes marijuana as a Schedule I (high potential for abuse) drug.

According to the ordinance, A-21 established six marketplace classes of licensed marijuana businesses: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.

A marijuana delivery business will not be permitted to operate in any zone in Freehold Borough, according to the ordinance; however, the delivery of cannabis products and supplies to Freehold Borough addresses by a delivery service based outside the borough may not be prohibited.

Marijuana retailers will be permitted to operate in commercial manufacturing and modified commercial zones on lots fronting Throckmorton Street and between the intersection of Throckmorton Street and Rhea Street west to the borough limits; office commercial, limited professional office and general commercial zones on lots fronting Park Avenue and between the intersection of Park Avenue and South Street east to the borough limits; and commercial manufacturing and general commercial zones on lots fronting Jerseyville Avenue and between the intersection of Jerseyville Avenue and Parker Street east to the borough limits, according to the ordinance.

Marijuana cultivators, distributors, manufacturers and wholesalers will only be permitted to operate in the commercial manufacturing district, according to the ordinance.

Cannabis cultivators and manufacturers would each have to pay a $10,000 annual license fee, while cannabis wholesalers, distributors and retailers would each have to pay a $5,000 annual license fee. According to the ordinance, a maximum of two licenses will be issued for each business type.

Cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and retailers would each have a 2% business sales tax in Freehold Borough. Cannabis wholesalers would have a 1% business sales tax in Freehold Borough, according to the ordinance.

Among other site standards, the hours of public operation for every marijuana business will be limited from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., unless the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission designates different hours.

Each businesses must have at least one security guard and be equipped with security cameras, and security footage must be provided to the Freehold Borough Police Department if requested. Operations would only be permitted to be conducted indoors.

Shutzer expressed concern regarding existing state marijuana legislation. She said if the municipal ordinance is adopted, Freehold Borough officials will not be able to change the town’s regulations regarding cannabis businesses for five years.

“This will not be something we will have the ability to immediately fix,” the councilwoman said. “It just seems more logical to me to wait and see how this plays out before committing to it.

“If the laws prove to be clear and effective, we can opt in. If the laws prove to be nebulous and ineffective and we have adopted this, we are stuck with it. I am not willing to take that chance.

“For me, this is not a moral issue. I am voting ‘no’ because I want to make sure that any investment Freehold Borough makes in this issue is governed by comprehensive and clear laws that protect the interest of our town and our residents. I am not confident of that at this point,” Shutzer said.

Schnurr, who is a member of the borough’s Finance Committee, said he supports the ordinance because of the revenue marijuana businesses would generate for Freehold Borough.

Jordan said Freehold Borough voters supported marijuana legalization by a significant margin in the 2020 statewide referendum. She said the proposed ordinance would effectively regulate the borough’s potential cannabis businesses.

“This is an extensive ordinance. We put together a committee with business people, residents and elected officials to air this whole thing out. I am confident we are on the right track with this,” she said.

Mayor Kevin Kane, who would only vote in the event of a tie when the proposed ordinance comes up for adoption, voiced support for the proposed law.

“(Cannabis) is a highly regulated industry that is intensely scrutinized. The amount of security is incredible. When this (question) was on the (2020) ballot, over 70% in New Jersey voted in favor of it and almost three-quarters of the residents of Freehold Borough voted in favor. This is something a lot of people want to see,” Kane said.

Municipal officials in every New Jersey municipality must make a decision on the cannabis issue by Aug. 21.