The Princeton Cannabis Task Force is mulling over whether a community meeting to discuss cannabis could be held, if a community organization or institution would be willing to host it.
The proposal to hold a community conversation on cannabis was raised at the task force’s Jan. 20 meeting, but no decision was reached.
There have been opposing views on whether the Princeton Council should permit the retail sale of cannabis. The task force recommended allowing up to three cannabis retail stores in its report to the Princeton Council in November 2021.
The Princeton Cannabis Task Force was appointed to study the retail sale of cannabis, following a state-imposed deadline of Aug. 21, 2021, to decide whether to permit the retail sale, cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, deliver and distribution of cannabis.
Voters statewide approved legalizing cannabis in 2020. The use of cannabis, or marijuana, was approved for medical use several years ago.
After months of study, the Princeton Cannabis Task Force released its report in November 2021. The report recommended issuing licenses for up to three cannabis dispensaries – or retail stores – but no licenses yet for other categories of cannabis-related businesses.
The task force reviewed its report and recommendations at the Princeton Council’s Nov. 30, 2021, meeting – and immediately faced pushback from residents who oppose cannabis stores.
The task force identified five commercial retail businesses: the area around the Dinky train station on lower Alexander Street; the Jugtown neighborhood on the eastern end of Nassau Street; the Central Business District; Witherspoon Street, between Green Street and Leigh Avenue; and Route 206, near Cherry Valley Road.
There would be no minimum distance from churches, playgrounds and parks. The proximity to schools would mirror the standards for liquor stores, which is at least 200 feet away from a school.
The federal drug-free school zone around schools is 1,000 feet. There is no evidence that the 200-foot standard for liquor stores has had an effect on underage drinking, so the same 200-foot standard should apply to cannabis stores, according to the task force.
But some opponents to the task force’s recommendations have banded together to form No Cannabis Retail in Princeton in response to the report and recommendations.
“We are working together to keep dispensaries out and maintain this beautiful place to raise a family. We are working to ensure the council knows (the Princeton Cannabis Task Force) does not represent us,” its website, www.nocannabisretailhere.com, states.
Meanwhile, opposition to the proposal to allow up to three cannabis retail stores has picked up steam. A petition signed by nearly 800 people has been circulating on www.change.org. The petition opposes allowing cannabis retail stores to be located near schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods in Princeton.
The petition states that children and adolescents who use cannabis or marijuana may 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, according to the petition.
Representatives from the Princeton Public Schools also weighed in on the issue, and sent a three-point position statement on allowing cannabis dispensaries in town to the Princeton Council.
The school board urged the Princeton Council to adhere to the 1,000-foot buffer, or drug-free zone, around schools. New Jersey has legalized cannabis, but it is still illegal to possess or sell it under federal law.
The school board’s position statement acknowledged that state law allows a dispensary to be located closer than 1,000 feet to a school, but there is no law that would require the town to do so – nor is there a law that would stop the town from voluntarily adhering to the federal drug-free school zone buffer.
Its second point stated that the school district should receive a portion of the 2% sales tax proceeds from the sale of cannabis at the dispensaries. The money would be used to pay for school and public information campaigns about cannabis and its effects on the adolescent brain.
In its third and final point, the school board’s position statement sought a commitment from Princeton municipal government, the Princeton Police Department and the cannabis dispensary owners to enforce state law to ensure that no sales would be made to anyone under 21 years old, which is the minimum age to buy cannabis.