HOWELL – The members of the Township Council have held a second public discussion regarding the possible operation of cannabis businesses in Howell.
The first public discussion relating to cannabis businesses took place on Sept. 14. The second public discussion took place on Nov. 30.
During the summer, the council members 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.
At the time, 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.
During the Sept. 14 discussion, council members heard from Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, who said he looked into cannabis cultivation operations and was informed “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.”
During the Nov. 30 discussion, Christa Riddle, the coordinator of the Howell Alliance, gave a presentation titled “Fact-Based Considerations for Responsible Recreational Cannabis Licensing Municipal Policy.”
The Howell Alliance collaborates across the community to prevent substance abuse, underage drinking and marijuana use, alcoholism, tobacco/nicotine use, vaping and other at-risk behaviors.
The Howell Alliance promotes physical, mental, emotional and social well-being and the reduction of substance use and mental health disorder stigmas by providing awareness, resources and education to all community populations.
In November 2020, residents of New Jersey voted to legalize adult use (also called recreational) cannabis. In Monmouth County, 244,576 residents voted “yes” and 128,276 residents voted “no” on the legalization ballot question.
Riddle said that out of about 39,500 residents of voting age in Howell, less than half, 19,934, voted to legalize marijuana.
“It is not a sweeping majority, or even a majority, especially when you consider only 37% of the total Howell population across all ages voted yes. Our elected decision-makers and hired professionals have a duty to serve and to make responsible policy for all community members, not just 50%; regardless of age or voting, they must act in the best interest in all of the public’s benefit including health, safety and well-being,” Riddle said.
She said the four crucial considerations for responsible cannabis licensing are youth; community health and well-being; law enforcement; and community impact/cost-benefit.
Riddle also discussed the impact allowing cannabis businesses to operate in Howell could have in regard to underage marijuana use.
As Riddle presented numbers from various studies, Mayor Theresa Berger asked for the specifics of the numbers behind the studies.
Riddle said the numbers are on the Howell Alliance website, but she did not have them as part of the presentation.
Berger said, “If we decide to move forward and open a facility in Howell … we heard (the police chief) and I would like to show the processes that are put in place for adults to go into those facilities.
“You could say, ‘Well, the adult went into a liquor store and bought a bottle for a kid,’ we cant solve the deviants of it, if there is a deviant out there it is just going to happen. There are adults in the audience who have voted for it, there are adults in every one of these rooms nowadays that voted for it,” the mayor said.
Riddle said the governing body does not just represent residents who vote.
Berger asked Riddle her thought process, saying, “So I am talking about the adults who have voted for it, and feel that if the majority of the state has voted for it, why would I not be able to purchase (cannabis) in my own town? And why would I be able to call Town A on either side of our borders and have it delivered to me and I get it anyway?”
Riddle said she was not speaking personally, but speaking from a professional perspective and asserted it was not a majority of the community who voted for cannabis legalization.
Howell resident Ryan Marlow is a U.S. Navy veteran who addressed the cannabis issue during previous meetings.
On Nov. 30, Marlow said, “We all know there are plenty of benefits to the use of marijuana. While (Riddle) has done a phenomenal job pointing out all the negatives, I did not hear one positive about the use of marijuana. I would love to create a presentation to tell you about the positives of marijuana and what it can do for people, but I don’t think I have to do that. I think you all know what the benefits are.”
He said cannabis businesses could generate revenue for Howell.
“There are plenty of locations this town has, vacant buildings, that (cannabis businesses) can go into, that I think we should definitely look at if we come to an agreement that we are going to allow (cannabis businesses) in town,” Marlow said.
“I am tired of hearing the discussions about if we need to allow (cannabis businesses), it is not a matter of ‘if.’ While (Riddle) did present data that showed the voters, there was one discrepancy I found in that data. She said 50% of Howell voters voted for it, that is inaccurate. According to the Monmouth County Voters Association … it was 58%” Marlow said.
He said Howell officials should move forward on the issue while they still have options.
The Township Council members did not make any decisions regarding cannabis businesses during the Nov. 30 meeting.