East Windsor Township Council nixes cannabis businesses

PHOTO COURTESY OF VALLEY WELLNESS

East Windsor has joined the ranks of municipalities that are holding off on allowing cannabis businesses to open their doors, now that cannabis, a controlled form of marijuana, has been legalized.

The East Windsor Township Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that bans the sale, packaging, distribution and cultivation in the township, following a public hearing on the ordinance at its June 8 meeting.

The delivery of cannabis by a delivery service outside of the township is not affected.

The ordinance is an amendment to the township’s zoning ordinance, which determines how land may be used and developed. East Windsor faced a deadline of Aug. 21 to decide whether to allow cannabis businesses to open in the township, and where they could be located.

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, delivery 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 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.

But the ordinance approved by the East Windsor Township Council stated that two nonprofit groups that advise municipalities on legal matters – the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Institute of Local Government Attorneys – have urged towns to prohibit allowing the cannabis businesses to open, pending further review.

Mayor Janice Mironov said that given the short time period in which to decide whether to permit cannabis-related businesses to open in the township, the prudent course of action was to opt out.

Mironov said it would give East Windsor Township officials a chance to study the issue and see what other towns have done and what they have experienced.

Hightstown Borough and West Windsor Township have opted out of allowing cannabis businesses to open, Mironov said. She said she had spoken to the mayors of the two neighboring towns.

“I know what other Mercer County towns are doing. A very large number of towns are doing this (banning cannabis businesses) for many of the same reasons (that East Windsor is banning them).

“This is obviously a subject that people are following. Cannabis is legal. This ordinance does not change it. It’s what our intentions are for cannabis businesses,” Mironov said.