FREEHOLD – The Borough Council has established regulations for cannabis businesses that may eventually operate in Freehold Borough.
During a meeting on July 19, council members voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance that establishes the locations where cannabis businesses may be permitted to operate in Freehold Borough and how the operators of those businesses may receive a license.
On a motion to adopt the ordinance, Borough Council President Annette Jordan, Councilman George Schnurr, Councilwoman Margaret Rogers and Councilman Adam Reich voted “yes.”
Councilwoman Sharon Shutzer voted “no” on the motion. Councilman Michael DiBenedetto was absent from the meeting.
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 law 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.
According to the Freehold Borough ordinance, A-21 established six marketplace classes of licensed marijuana businesses: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.
A marijuana delivery business will not be permitted to operate in any zone in Freehold Borough, according to the ordinance; however, the delivery of cannabis products and/or supplies to addresses in Freehold Borough by a delivery service that is based outside the borough may not be prohibited.
Municipal officials determined that marijuana retailers will be permitted to operate in commercial manufacturing zones and modified commercial zones on lots fronting Throckmorton Street, and between the intersection of Throckmorton and Rhea streets west to the borough limits; in office commercial zones, limited professional office zones and general commercial zones on lots fronting Park Avenue (Route 33) and between the intersection of Park Avenue and South Street east to the borough limits; and commercial manufacturing zones and general commercial zones on lots fronting Jerseyville Avenue and between the intersection of Jerseyville Avenue and Parker Street east to the borough limits.
Cannabis cultivators, distributors, manufacturers and wholesalers will only be permitted to operate in the town’s commercial manufacturing district, according to the ordinance.
Cannabis cultivators and manufacturers would each have to pay a $10,000 annual license fee, while cannabis wholesalers, distributors and retailers would each have to pay a $5,000 annual license fee. According to the ordinance, a maximum of two licenses will be issued for each business type.
Cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and retailers would each have a 2% business sales tax in Freehold Borough. Cannabis wholesalers would have a 1% business sales tax in Freehold Borough, according to the ordinance.
Among other site standards, the hours of public operation for every marijuana business will be limited from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., unless the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission designates different hours.
Each cannabis business must have at least one security guard and be equipped with security cameras, and security footage must be provided to the Freehold Borough Police Department if requested. Operations will only be permitted to be conducted indoors.
During the public hearing that preceded the council’s vote on the ordinance, Hugh Giordano, a representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents employees in the cannabis industry, voiced support for the ordinance.
“I want to thank the council and the mayor for having the courage to allow good union jobs here in Freehold Borough,” Giordano said. “These jobs are union from seed to sale and the build-out and retrofit (of cannabis businesses) will be done by the carpenters, the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the steamfitters.”
Resident Chris Velasco offered a different view, stating, “You (the governing body) want to put the zoning from South Street to Park Avenue until the end of town. There are residents there, there is an apartment complex there.
“You want to put it on Jerseyville Avenue. There are residents around there. If you have an issue with people getting intoxicated and passing out on the streets of Freehold Borough, what’s to say they are not going to walk around stoned?” she asked.
Velasco said officials in nearby municipalities are taking action to prohibit cannabis businesses from operating within their borders.
“When the surrounding larger towns are saying no to this, why is Freehold Borough saying yes?” she asked. “They have the space to put these types of facilities and you want to put it in someone’s neighborhood with someone’s kids.
“The licenses are $5,000 to $10,000. This isn’t a money maker for the town. But yet, the detriment, the quality of life to the residents, the risk, safety and increased traffic outweighs any kind of pros,” Velasco said.
Mayor Kevin Kane and Business Administrator Stephen Gallo pointed out that when the question of legalizing marijuana was placed on the November 2020 ballot, more than 70% of Freehold Borough residents who went to the polls voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Kane, who only would have voted on the ordinance in the case of a tie, said he supported the local legislation.
Shutzer emphasized that her opposition to the proposed ordinance derived from uncertainty regarding the state’s regulations relating to cannabis businesses and to borough officials not being able to change the town’s regulations for five years if the ordinance was adopted.
“If we opt in to have legal sales in our town, we are locked in to that for five years whether it works or not,” the councilwoman said. “If we decide we want to wait a year to see if the rules and regulations are things we can live with, that will not negatively affect our town, we can opt in. And I don’t know what the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is going to come up with.”
Shutzer shared Velasco’s concern about cannabis businesses being prohibited by neighboring municipalities.
“I am very worried about what kind of a hub Freehold Borough will become,” she said. “I have to vote ‘no’ because I do not think committing to five years with rules we don’t even know yet and are not clear is what is best for Freehold Borough.”
Jordan said a special committee was created to establish regulations for Freehold Borough’s cannabis businesses.
“(The committee had) residents, business owners, representatives from our police department and governing body members,” the council president said. “We went over the pros and cons of this. And this (ordinance) is what we landed on. As a council member, I am confident in my vote tonight to bring this to Freehold Borough.”
Responding to concerns about individuals being under the influence of marijuana on the borough’s streets, Schnurr said most of the cannabis business classes are not retailers.
“There are various classes of licenses where you would not be able to tell what is going on behind closed doors,” the councilman said. “Retail is a different story, but we are going to limit that (type of business) to where that can go. Most of the licenses are non-foot traffic, non-retail (operations).”
Schnurr said the fact that neighboring towns are prohibiting cannabis businesses would be beneficial to Freehold Borough.
“I was encouraged by that,” he said. “That means the businesses that want to develop here in town will be very successful.”
Rogers concluded that allowing cannabis businesses to operate in Freehold Borough would not have a negative impact.
“I’m supporting this (ordinance) because cannabis is already here,” Rogers said. “This (ordinance) gives us a sense of awareness of how to handle it, how to address it, how to put controls over it.
“I’m comfortable with the types of licenses we are allowing, I’m comfortable that we will be limiting the retail aspects of the cannabis industry, I’m comfortable we are not allowing deliveries and certain activities.
“I don’t use marijuana, I don’t intend to use it, but there are people who do use it and they are going to continue to use it. We need to address that in a way that allows them to legally use it,” Rogers said.
“This ordinance is very structured on how people can use it by state law. We are not going to have the activity that is anticipated with people walking around, smoking joints.
“I feel this is good for Freehold from a tax perspective, a community perspective, a business perspective.
“I don’t feel it’s going to have a negative impact on our community because it doesn’t have a negative impact now. People are already using it. This ordinance is more regulating (of cannabis) than allowing people to run free with it,” Rogers said.