Eatontown officials consider permitting cannabis businesses in borough

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EATONTOWN – The Borough Council is taking action to establish regulations for cannabis businesses that may eventually operate in Eatontown.

On July 14, council members introduced an ordinance that will, if adopted, establish the locations where cannabis businesses will be permitted to operate in the borough and the standards by which those businesses may receive a license.

Borough Council President Kevin Gonzalez, Councilman Joseph Olsavsky, Councilman Mark Regan and Councilwoman Danielle Jones voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the ordinance.

Councilwoman Jasmine Story and Councilwoman Maria Escalante voted “no” on the motion.

The motion passed, 4-2, and the cannabis ordinance was introduced.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for July 28. Residents and interested parties may comment on the proposed ordinance at that time. The council members may adopt the ordinance that evening.

The council’s action follows the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act, also known as A-21, which was approved by state legislators in February after New Jersey voters in 2020 approved a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.

The legislation legalizes the recreational use (also known as adult use) of marijuana for certain adults, subject to state regulation; it decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and hashish (a marijuana concentrate); and it removes marijuana as a Schedule I (high potential for abuse) drug.

A-21 established six marketplace classes of licensed marijuana businesses in New Jersey: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.

A marijuana delivery service will not be permitted to operate in any zone in Eatontown, according to the ordinance. However, the delivery of cannabis products and/or supplies to Eatontown addresses by a delivery service that is based outside the borough may not be prohibited by municipal officials.

According to the ordinance, cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors will be permitted to operate on Industrial Way, west of Route 35. The maximum permitted number of each business type in Eatontown will be two.

Cannabis retailers will be permitted to operate on Route 36, east of the intersection with Route 35; and on Route 35, south of the intersection with Route 36.

Retailers cannot be located less than 1,000 feet from a school on the same side or opposite of the street, according to the ordinance. The maximum number of permitted cannabis retail establishments in Eatontown will be three.

The application fee for all five permitted cannabis business types will be $10,000 and the businesses afterward will pay $2,500 annually, according to the ordinance.

Cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and retailers will be subject to a 2% local cannabis tax, while wholesalers will receive a 1% tax.

Prior to the ordinance’s introduction, Jones and Mayor Anthony Talerico emphasized that borough officials must take action on the cannabis issue by Aug. 21.

If an ordinance is not adopted by that date to permit or to prohibit cannabis businesses from operating in town, the state will have control of the municipality’s regulations for a five-year period.

“The goal is to have something in place before the deadline of Aug. 21,” Jones said. “If Aug. 21 passes and nothing is on the books for the borough, we are at the mercy of the state’s direction for five years.”

When the ordinance was presented before the governing body, the legislation did not specify a limit for cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler and distributor businesses.

Regan reasoned the ordinance should be amended to establish a maximum number of each business type.

“If we are limiting the retail, I think we should be limiting the others as well,” Regan said. “I think if we are keeping it to two or three (of each license), as defined by what our current status is, I would prefer two.”

Following Regan’s suggestion, the ordinance was rewritten to limit the cannabis cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler and distributor licenses to two for each use.

During a discussion, Escalante objected to the ordinance specifying where cannabis businesses would be permitted to operate.

“I don’t like that (the ordinance) has specific locations,” she said. “If it was more broad, I would be OK with it, but I don’t like having it spelled out specifically.”

In response, Talerico said the west side of Route 36 and the north side of Route 35 are less suitable for cannabis retailers because there are more residential developments on those sides. He said larger businesses in Eatontown are on Industrial Way.

Story said she was opposed to zoning cannabis businesses more strictly than liquor stores and pharmacies.

“On paper, this (ordinance) doesn’t sound as restrictive or like a ban,” Story said. “But if these are being restricted to one side of the highway and putting all these other requirements in, does the number really amount to two or three? At most, it’s really one.

“When you look at the layout of the town, does this actually make sense and is this more restrictive than it appears to be on its base? I personally feel this is very restrictive,” the councilwoman said.

The proposed ordinance received support from Hugh Giordano, a representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers. The union represents employees in the cannabis industry.

“I want to thank the mayor and council, specifically Councilwoman Jones,” Giordano said. “Eatontown has shown real leadership in introducing this ordinance.

“I think the whole state should see what Eatontown is doing right now. Not only did you fight for medical patients and allow a medical dispensary, but now you are moving one step forward and allowing good union jobs to be created.

“As a labor organization, we would wish that more councils and mayors would take the leadership role this council and mayor are taking.

“Councilwoman Jones is a real leader and when the cannabis industry is booming in Eatontown, the workers and the working class will have her to thank,” Giordano said.