By MADELEINE MACCAR
Monroe Township Council held its combined agenda and regular meeting June 28 via Zoom.
With the agenda portion’s pubic comment session occurring early in the meeting, Business Administrator Alan Weinberg discussed one of the meeting’s resolutions, R-6-2021-160, which would authorize the return of in-person meetings. The concern was that there would not be a hybrid component for submitting public comment, especially for residents whose health or mobility precludes them from attending.
“We are planning to move forward for our next meeting, which is Aug. 2, where people could stream online,” Weinberg explained. “We would handle questions at the council meeting itself, but you certainly would be able to watch it online.”
Edward “Lefty” Grimes, speaking on behalf of Sativa Cross, a statewide nonprofit disability rights organization, was just the first speaker to note that a return to pre-pandemic ways of life doesn’t have to mean taking away the remote access that made for a more accessible world, and that revoking those means of access presents a human and civil rights violation.
“It’s a disability-access issue,” he said. “For 14 months, you guys gave disabled people what they’ve been looking for for years … for 14 months, they were able to take part. And a lot of these towns are like, ‘Oh, we can’t do that anymore’—well, yeah, you can. We know you can, we saw it for 14 months.”
Also at the beginning of the meeting, township attorney Lou Rainone took the opportunity to further clarify O-6-2021-015, the proposed ordinance in its second reading that would ban cannabis businesses from setting up shop within the municipality, highlighting what details remain too unknowable to govern by.
“There’s no estimate or good way to estimate what the tax dollars would or would not have been, assuming you allowed a cannabis license,” he said. “The state tax rate is from 1% to 2%, depending on whether or not it’s retail or not retail, and the State of New Jersey does not collect an excise tax, they just collect sales tax.”
Both local and statewide participants continued the conversation, mostly speaking against the ordinance.
As in previous meetings discussing the prohibition of cannabis businesses, residents commented that such a measure risks denying Monroe taxpayers the same financial boon other regions of newly legalized marijuana have enjoyed. They pointed out that the ordinance only pertains to the township, so there’s nothing stopping neighboring towns from tapping into that new resource—to say nothing of the medical benefits it offers local patients, especially since they often face corollary financial and transportation hurdles.
A representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents more than 1.3 million Americans, including “cannabis workers from seed to sale,” added that the proposed ordinance also prevents Monroe Township residents from accessing the employment opportunities the cannabis industry offers.
He noted that the industry attracts an “educated workforce” with backgrounds in fields like botany, horticulture and chemistry, and includes a living wage, personal time off and insurance.
Also citing how the City of Bayonne passed conservative opt-in legislation allowing a small number of businesses and establishing labor standards, he implored Monroe officials to reconsider the ordinance.
The regular meeting commenced roughy half an hour after the agenda portion began.
The ordinance authorizing a donated parcel of land that will extend the open space at James Monroe Memorial Park, O-6-2021-014, sailed through its second reading while the aforementioned O-6-2021-015 continued to draw comments. Cannabis advocates continued urging council to at least table the ordinance and consider the lives its passage would impact, while those in favor of the ordinance’s outlined prohibition cited their reasons for supporting the council’s decision.
Rainone said that Monroe, like every other New Jersey municipality, had a “pretty short time period” to develop cannabis ordinances, considering the time it takes for ordinances to be be both introduced and effective.
“The township has taken the steps to prohibit all of the cannabis licenses within the township,” he said. “Part of the rationale for doing this is, of course, the legislature gave the various municipalities in in the state 180 days from when they adopted the ordinance to have ordinances adopted into law, to have ordinances in place.”
He added that the League of Municipalities, a nonprofit focused on helping communities self govern, advised those councils either unsure of what direction to go in or conflicted about the decision to “take these steps, because you can always go in the other direction … you’re leaving your options open by doing this. We can wait for the state regulations,” which have not yet been adopted.
Rainone anticipates once that happens, towns will have a better sense of how licenses will be distributed and what that criteria will be.
Rainone also reminded the public that the township wouldn’t be able to apply its own restrictions and criteria to marijuana-based businesses, as those decisions are mandated by a dedicated cannabis commission,
“Your only role here is to either ban them, permit them, or regulate where in the town they can go by your zoning ordinance and then establish a tax. That’s really all that you can do,” he said.
Councilman Terence Van Dzura asked his fellow council members to oppose the measure, citing both statistical information and personal anecdotes in his argument, as well as the ongoing health and financial benefits residents stand to benefit from.
“If this ordinance is adopted, it is a major mistake,” he said. “I’m going to urge my colleagues to vote against the ordinance.”
He outlined the differences in various cannabis licenses, such as those for cultivators, manufacturers, wholesale, distributors, retail and delivery, and noted that those in support of prohibition have only been “dealing with the dispensary, which is only one form of the license—the retail.”
He added that while medical marijuana is an entirely different issue, recreational facilities would come as a significant relief for Monroe residents who rely on dispensaries for their medications.
Councilman Leonard Baskin offered a rebuttal.
“I am planning to vote in favor of the ordinance as it stands. Now, I wouldn’t be opposed to an amendment if that were done legally, but I want to just point out that I feel that the law that the state passed was done in very great haste.”
While Van Dzura expressed his concerns that an amendment overruling the prohibition could become a lengthy headache of a process, Baskin noted its potential for revisiting the ordinance to allow a reputable cannabis business to make Monroe its home in the future.
Ultimately, the motion was adopted, banning all classes of cannabis businesses in town.
A video of the meeting will be available at monroetv.viebit.com
The next Monroe Township Council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2. Visit monroetwp.com for more information.