Town hall discusses options for North Brunswick related to adult-use marijuana

NORTH BRUNSWICK – Township officials and residents have shared their opinions regarding whether North Brunswick officials should issue any of the licenses allowed by the state in accordance with the legalization of adult-use cannabis in New Jersey.

In the November 2020 general election, about 70% of North Brunswick residents voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.

“This is a serious decision, like alcohol, which most of us probably would prefer not to have around, but at the same token it could be something to generate money,” Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said during a special town hall meeting, held virtually on June 10.

Township Attorney Ronald Gordon explained that township officials can decide if they will issue any of the six licenses, the number of licenses and where the licensees would be permitted to operate.

The licenses include cultivation, which is the growing of the plants; manufacturing, which is the manufacturing, preparing and packaging of items; wholesale, which is obtaining and selling for resale by a licensed entity; distribution, which is transporting plants in bulk from a licensed cultivator to a licensed resaler; retailer, which is selling cannabis-related items to the consumer; and delivery, which is a courier service that picks up from a cultivator and delivers to the end user.

North Brunswick officials cannot prohibit the delivery of cannabis products to consumers in town from delivery businesses that are based in other municipalities, as per state legislation.

Officials can decide to opt in or opt out of any or all of the licenses by Aug. 21, or the state will allow all licenses to be permitted for the next five years, as per the legislation.

If municipal officials opt out, they can opt in at any point in the future.

If municipal officials opt in, the decision will stand for five years. If officials opt out after five years, any existing operations would be grandfathered in, Gordon said.

Resident Pete Clark said he thinks “very strongly” that the members of the Township Council should take a wait-and-see approach since the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission does not have concrete guidelines in place.

Clark said issuing licenses could increase youth usage because marijuana would be easier to get, home values could decline, traffic and safety issues could occur, parks could be impacted, and DUI offenses could increase, based on information he received from other municipalities and municipal alliance committees.

“I would like to see the mayor and council keep it out of North Brunswick,” he said.

Melanie Paccillo suggested reaching out to towns of a similar size in Colorado or California, for example, where marijuana is already legal, to gather more information.

“Marijuana is going to be legal in New Jersey. Our only part is to allow licenses or no licenses or all licenses. … Even if we approve no licenses, marijuana is still going to be legal in New Jersey and [township residents] will be able to get it from a delivery service,” Councilman Ralph Andrews said.

“Cannabis products are currently legal in New Jersey; we are only talking about the rollout,” Gordon said.

Gordon explained the tax benefit is 2% on receipts from cultivators, manufacturers or retailers, and 1% on wholesalers.

“Marijuana – or cannabis – is already in North Brunswick, so we need to face that fact,” said resident Rich Zangara, who said the “revenues are astonishing” in other parts of the country that issue operating licenses.

He said cannabis distribution centers are for adults age 21 and older, are highly secure and are typically upscale.

Zangara said he does not advocate for the legalization necessarily, but if his mother were still alive, going to a retailer would have been easier for her than going to a dispensary with a medical marijuana card.

“As long as we have a way to monitor people like we do with drinking and driving or anything else, this would be a safe thing to have,” an attendee identified as Karen said during the meeting.

There are 565 municipalities in New Jersey, so the concern is that other towns would reap the monetary benefit. For example, New Brunswick officials are approving five types of licenses and will deliver cannabis products into North Brunswick, Zangara said.

Councilwoman Amanda Guadagnino noted that township officials would be able to control the zoning for any of the licenses, and as such make sure establishments are not located near a park, a school or a religious center.

Gordon called this “proximity restrictions.”

“Just by adopting it doesn’t mean we can’t control where it goes,” Womack said.

Andrews did caution that “this is not solid” and said the state has a history of changing its rules, so officials need to consider that as well.

Because the notice for the June 10 meeting contained an incorrect dial-in number, the Township Council will hold another meeting for those residents who were unable to join. For more information and the scheduled date, visit www.northbrunswicknj.gov

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com