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Township Committee carries public hearing for opt-out cannabis ordinance

The Hopewell Township Committee has tabled a public hearing on a cannabis opt-out ordinance that would prohibit within the township all six of the cannabis class business licenses.

The Township Committee decided to carry the public hearing from June 28 to July 19 after the ordinance was before the governing body for a second reading.

In between the introduction and second reading of the opt-out ordinance the planning board reviewed the ordinance to determine if the ordinance was consistent with the master plan.

“The ordinance opting out was reviewed by the Hopewell Township Planning Board, because it does implicate on the land use ordinance. Every land use ordinance has to go for a consistency review,” Township Attorney Steve Goodell said at a June 28 Township Committee meeting. “They found that the ordinance was not consistent with the master plan. That is nothing unusual and you have the power to adopt an ordinance that is inconsistent with the master plan.”

However, Goodell added that the planning board recommended that the Township Committee adopt the ordinance despite its inconsistency, because the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has not issued regulations yet.

The board had disagreed with a report from Frank Banisch, the board’s planner, which stated that the ordinance was consistent with the master plan, because the plan does not anticipate cannabis.

“Board members expressed concern over the prohibition of cultivation in the ordinance in the master plan in support of agriculture within the township. That cannabis cultivation was consistent with agricultural use,” he said. “More specifically, ordinance 17-147, which provides that farms and other agriculture uses are permitted as principle uses in all districts of the township, which ordinance includes cultivation of crops, etc.”

In the public hearing, Goodell indicated that if the governing body were to adopt the ordinance the members of the Township Committee would simultaneously have to adopt a reasons resolution, which articulates why they believe the ordinance is a good thing and is reasonable and makes sense even though it is not consistent with the master plan.

“We do not have a reasons resolution drafted for you tonight the planning board,” Goodell said. “I would recommend that you continue the public hearing to a later date. To keep this ordinance alive, I would recommend you hear from the public and continue the public hearing.”

Additionally, Mayor Julie Blake suggested that if possible an ordinance be constructed to not prohibit class licenses for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing.

The opt-out ordinance currently before the Township Committee was designed to create more time for the municipality to decide, which classes licenses of cannabis businesses license would be allowed in the township and to establish regulations.

“This opt-out ordinance was designed to created time and space for us to have reflective and not reactive decision making,” Blake said. “The way the statute is written is that we have until Aug. 21 to opt out and should we not do that in a timely fashion before Aug. 21, we would be opting in with every class of licensure and would not be able to opt out in five years.”

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