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Petition against cannabis retail stores gaining traction in Princeton

A petition that opposes allowing cannabis retail stores or dispensaries to be located near schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods in Princeton, as recommended by an advisory group, has gained nearly 700 signatures.

The petition on www.change.org grew out of the Princeton Cannabis Task Force’s proposed recommendations to allow cannabis dispensaries, or retail stores, near schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods “in violation of U.S. federal law and common sense,” according to the petition.

The Princeton Cannabis Task Force was appointed by the Princeton Council earlier this year to study whether cannabis dispensaries or retail stores should be permitted in the town after New Jersey voters approved legalizing cannabis in November 2020.

The Princeton Council, faced with a state-imposed deadline of Aug. 21 to decide whether to permit the sale, cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling and distribution of cannabis, decided to hold off on permitting any of those uses.

The task force, in the meantime, has been studying the issue of retail sales.

The www.change.org petition states that children and adolescents who use cannabis or marijuana can suffer impairments in learning, decision-making and cognitive functioning. It may also result in lower academic performance. Studies have shown the effects are more severe than for alcohol, the petition states.

“Marijuana dispensaries cannot be allowed to operate near our schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods,” according to the petition.

While the distribution of cannabis, or marijuana, is not a crime in New Jersey, it remains a federal crime under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, the petition states. There are “serious penalties” for violating federal law, it says.

According to the petition, a conviction for selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of school property, playgrounds or public housing carries a minimum prison term of one year for first-time offenders, and three years to life for repeat offenders.

“Unbelievably, the Cannabis Task Force is recommending that Princeton license these unlawful activities with a buffer of only 200 feet for schools, and no buffer at all for playgrounds and public housing, in blatant disregard of U.S. federal law and the safety of our children,” the petition states.

The potential locations proposed by the Princeton Cannabis Task Force are the area around the Dinky train station on lower Alexander Street; Jugtown, near the intersection of Harrison and Nassau streets; the Central Business District; Witherspoon Street, between Green Street and Leigh Avenue; and Route 206, near Cherry Valley Road.

There are no homes in immediate proximity to the Dinky on lower Alexander Street, but there are homes in the Jugtown neighborhood, and along Witherspoon Street. The Community Park School is on Witherspoon Street, a few hundred feet north of Leigh Avenue. There are homes in the area of Route 206 and Cherry Valley Road.

With an average annual property tax bill of more than $20,000, Princeton should be able to balance the municipal budget without the 2% tax on cannabis dispensaries that would operate in violation of federal law, according to the petition.

“If Princeton needs illegal drug money to fund additional spending, we should at least make some effort to protect our children and keep these dispensaries away from our schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods,” the petition states.

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