Eatontown council members introduce second cannabis ordinance

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EATONTOWN – The Borough Council has put forth a new ordinance that proposes establishing less restrictive regulations for cannabis businesses that may eventually operate in Eatontown.

During a special meeting on July 21, 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.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for a special meeting on Aug. 5. The members of the governing body may vote to adopt the ordinance that evening.

Ordinance No. 19-2021 is the second piece of cannabis legislation to have been introduced by Eatontown’s governing body this year.

The first ordinance to deal with cannabis businesses, Ordinance No. 15-2021, was introduced on July 14.

A public hearing on Ordinance No. 15-2021 was held on July 28, however, Mayor Anthony Talerico said that legislation would likely not be adopted due to the expected adoption of Ordinance No. 19-2021 on Aug. 5.

No council member made a motion to adopt Ordinance No. 15-2021 and the proposed legislation died for a lack of a motion.

That clears the way for Ordinance No. 19-2021 to be adopted on Aug. 5.

The Eatontown 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.

Under the terms of Ordinance No. 15-2021, cannabis retailers would have been permitted to operate on Route 36, east of the intersection with Route 35; on Route 35, south of the intersection with Route 36; and not less than 1,000 feet from a school.

The location restrictions were criticized by Councilwoman Jasmine Story and Councilwoman Maria Escalante, who voted against the introduction of the ordinance on July 14.

The second piece of cannabis legislation, Ordinance No. 19-2021, states that cannabis retailers will be permitted to operate on Route 36, but no longer restricted to east of the intersection with Route 35. The businesses will also still be permitted on Route 35, south of the intersection with Route 36; and not less than 1,000 feet from a school.

The maximum number of permitted cannabis retail establishments in Eatontown will be three, according to Ordinance No. 19-2021.

The remaining regulations in Ordinance No. 19-2021 are unchanged from Ordinance No. 15-2021; 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.

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.

A marijuana delivery service will not be permitted to operate in any zone in Eatontown, according to the ordinance that is currently on the table.

However, by law, 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.

During public comment, Atlantic Highlands resident Jim Krauss asked why marijuana delivery services are not being permitted to be based in Eatontown.

Talerico cited concerns for the safety of the drivers and security issues. The mayor emphasized that residents will be permitted to receive cannabis products and/or supplies from a delivery service that is licensed in another municipality.

Resident Jeffrey King criticized certain regulations that are being placed on the cannabis businesses, particularly in comparison to establishments that sell alcohol.

“We are using regulations for cannabis that are a lot more intense than alcohol,” he said. “It will cost the consumers. They will pay for it. Businesses will be competing with other businesses for the consumers and price is going to be part of it.”

King made note of how the proposed ordinance would permit cannabis businesses to operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

“Alcohol is available at places where it is sold and can be bought much later than the hours you (council members) are giving cannabis, just for retail,” he said. “I don’t understand that double standard at all.”

King also discussed the ordinance’s security requirements for cannabis businesses, including how a business will be required to have at least one privately licensed security guard stationed at the location during the hours of operation.

“Why is there no security requirement at bars?” King asked the council. “Maybe they have bouncers, but not private security. And I don’t see opiate dispensaries, like pharmacies, with private security. Maybe that’s good for cannabis and we should do that for bars and pharmaceutical dealers.”

He pointed out the proposed cannabis ordinance prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from being allowed in a building where cannabis is sold, but said that same restriction is not placed on a building where alcohol is sold.

“I stopped going to Chili’s because there are always children on the bar side,” King said. “Let’s outlaw children anywhere alcohol is present and be consistent. Outlaw children around pharmaceuticals.

“Let’s be safe for children if we are going to bend over backward in an abundance of caution for cannabis. Bowling with beer is cool, but we can’t do a bowling allowance with cannabis? I disagree with that,” he said.