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Howell council members listen to comments about cannabis

HOWELL – The members of the Township Council will continue to hear what residents have to say about the possibility of allowing cannabis businesses to operate in Howell when a special meeting is held at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 in town hall.

An initial meeting to solicit public feedback about the potential operation of those businesses in the community was held on Sept. 14.

Earlier this summer, municipal officials adopted an ordinance that prohibits all six types of cannabis businesses that may be licensed to operate in New Jersey from operating in Howell. Those businesses are cannabis cultivator, cannabis manufacturer, cannabis wholesaler, cannabis retailer, cannabis distributor and cannabis delivery service.

During a public hearing that preceded the adoption of the ordinance, some residents criticized the legislation as being a missed opportunity for Howell’s elected officials to set precedent and standards for cannabis businesses in the municipality.

Officials said they would give residents a chance to discuss the issue and that is what took place in the municipal building on Sept. 14.

Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said, “There are some members here that I know will speak on both sides of (the issue), but our intent is to hear all angles so the council can form the best policy as to what we want to allow, what we don’t want to allow, and what areas of town we want to allow (cannabis businesses) in.”

Mayor Theresa Berger said the discussion should be about “how recreational cannabis and/or medical cannabis should be regulated, zoned and permitted for land use purposes in Howell.”

Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, a lifelong resident of the community, said he was asked to provide insight on the issue as the community’s police chief.

He said he wanted to address “the possible effects (of cannabis businesses) on law enforcement and the policing of this community.”

The chief said he looked into cannabis cultivation operations and was told “there were no issues at all. Security is airtight (at the cultivation facilities), the businesses are very regulated and the business owners are in tune with the community.”

“I know these business owners take (the cultivation operations) very seriously because they know they are an easy target. But other than that, it has not been reported to me that there was a rise in crime, vandalism, whatever it may be, that would draw police attention or police resources” to this type of facility, Kudrick said.

During his comments to the council, resident Ed McNamee said there are medical marijuana dispensaries in New Jersey and retail cannabis operations in neighboring states.

“Anybody can go ahead and drive to (a retail cannabis business) and get it. They can come home and smoke it at their house. So you can’t prevent it from happening because the law says you are going to have it, and the question is do you want to be involved somehow?” McNamee said.

He said Howell could make revenue from fees that would be paid by the operators of cannabis businesses.

McNamee said he has an interest in developing a cannabis cultivation operation on a Howell property and has noted the difference in revenue between farming and cannabis cultivation.

“It is here, you are not going to prevent it from happening. Right or wrong it is going to be in the town next to you … So do you want to go ahead and get any revenue from it or not? Somebody is,” McNamee said to the members of the governing body.

Resident Lisa Doud said she lived in a state where cannabis is legal.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions everybody is talking about. It seems that everybody just thinks you go to the marijuana store and you are just going to buy pot, roll a joint and sit there and smoke it,” she said.

“You can buy edibles, which a majority of people do … there are not a lot of people in marijuana shops that are just buying pot, they are buying edibles and different things you can drink.

“It is not just people buying pot to roll a joint to smoke on the patio and blow smoke onto somebody else’s patio. It is not like that anymore. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what is sold and how it is used,” Doud said.

She said older individuals go to cannabis shops because they do not want to take opioids or pain killers to ease pain.

“I think we are putting a lot of the onus on (saying) teenagers are going to (use cannabis) … and people are going to become drug addicts and it is really not like that.

“The people who are buying it are my age or older … who are looking for alternatives because they do not want to use opioids … We are not reinventing the wheel here. There are plenty of other states and towns that have done this for years,” Doud said.

Other residents said prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and/or retail cannabis shops from operating in Howell will not stop black market sales of cannabis in town. They said allowing those types of operations would make life easier for residents and remove the stigma attached to the use of cannabis.

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