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Howell council votes to prohibit all cannabis businesses in town

HOWELL – By a vote of 3-0, the Howell Township Council has adopted an ordinance that prohibits all six types of cannabis businesses that may be licensed to operate in New Jersey from operating in the community.

Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted to adopt the ordinance at the July 13 meeting of the governing body.

Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilman John Bonevich were absent from the meeting.

According to municipal officials, the purpose of the ordinance “is to regulate the marketplace class of licensed recreational cannabis businesses and to codify a prohibition on all six marketplace classes of cannabis establishments … cannabis cultivator, cannabis manufacturer, cannabis wholesaler, cannabis retailer, cannabis distributor and cannabis delivery service.”

Although officials have now prohibited a cannabis delivery service from being based in Howell, by law they may not ban the delivery of cannabis and/or cannabis supplies to addresses in Howell by a delivery service that is licensed in another municipality.

Prior to the council’s vote to adopt the cannabis ordinance, a public hearing was conducted.

Resident Ryan Marlow said, “As a 10-year Navy veteran who is 100% disabled (with) post-traumatic stress disorder, medical marijuana has been the biggest thing that has saved my life. I currently have to travel for over an hour-and-a-half to get medicine that helps me.

“Other medicines that are used for PTSD and other ailments are more dangerous than medical marijuana,” he said, noting there are vacant storefronts in Howell.

“Towns that have and allow for these (cannabis) businesses are making thousands of dollars in revenue off of these businesses. Why is Howell so against bringing in extra income instead of wanting to prevent businesses for coming in for five years?” Marlow asked.

Berger said, “I am not against it, I do not believe we are against it … what we are doing is trying to make sure we have it in the correct location. That is all we are doing.”

Marlow said Howell officials have said they want to see what officials in other towns permit in terms of cannabis businesses and asked, “Why wait and see? You have an opportunity to set a precedent and to set an example for other towns to follow. The opportunity is now. Please allow this opportunity.”

Attorney Lawrence Luttrell said he represents the owners of Merrick Farm LLC, which owns property on Merrick Road. He asked the council members to reconsider their position on the cannabis ordinance.

“As a practical matter, it is going to be a problem for my clients and people like my clients that want to be prospective bidders in what is going to be a very competitive licensing project.

“They want to be cultivators of cannabis, they don’t want to sell it retail, they just want to be farmers. So we all know Howell is a farming town, right?” Luttrell asked.

He said local farmers cannot compete with industrial and corporate farming.

“But now, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has come. You now have a plant that has the highest yield of a profit margin of any plant that has ever been grown on this planet and (entities) have an opportunity that if they do get (a license), they are going to be able to have a sustainable farm.

“All cultivation licenses require (the plant) to be grown indoors. Nobody can see what is grown inside. (Cultivators) cannot sell to retail, they can only sell to wholesalers or to distributors,” Luttrell said.

He said his client “is a second generation farmer and her partner is a financial adviser. His entire life, 76 years, he dedicated to finance. That is who this (opportunity) is attracting to Howell, so this idea there is going to be ‘an element’ … there is not a (crime) element, it is people like your neighbors.”

Joan Osborne, who chairs the Howell Environmental Commission, said Howell officials react to issues rather than planning ahead.

“This (New Jersey cannabis) law in particular, we knew it was coming since last November (when residents voted to legalize marijuana). We should have immediately been identifying the zones we wanted, what types of (cannabis) businesses we wanted and figuring out an ordinance that would allow growers,” Osborne said.

Osborne said Howell is a farming town and added, “We don’t want to see our farms sold to become warehouses … I am concerned (that planning for cannabis businesses) is never going to get done and we are going to be stuck having (the businesses) prohibited, and we are never going to reach an agreement in a timely fashion where it can actually be accomplished because the licenses are going to be gone. We are just going to be out of the loop and not making any revenue and the town sorely needs revenue.”

“New Jersey is not the first state that has done this, so there has to be best practices out there that we can take a look at,” Berger said.

Hugh Giordano, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152, which represents employees in the cannabis industry, expressed the union’s opposition to the ordinance which prohibits cannabis businesses from operating in Howell. He invited the council members to tour these types of facilities at locations in the state.

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