Township Committee contemplates permitting retail cannabis in Hopewell Township

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The Hopewell Township Committee is considering retail sales and licenses in the township for recreational cannabis.

Hopewell Township has already constructed regulations for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing in the VRC Zone. The township only allows for one cannabis business for cultivation and manufacturing.

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A single company or business that holds both cultivation and manufacturing licenses is permitted as long as they both are on the same site.

Currently, the township prohibits cannabis wholesalers, distributors, retailers and delivery services businesses in any zone within Hopewell Township.

In remarks the week of Feb. 4, Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger indicated the Township Committee may consider an introduction of an ordinance, which would permit retail cannabis sales.

Recently, a special meeting and cannabis public forum took place on Jan. 25 virtually to discuss the topic of retail cannabis and receive input from township residents.

“The state has given a lot of leeway to municipalities to dictate how and where to allow cannabis businesses,” said Scott Miccio, attorney for Hopewell Township from the law firm Parker McCay. “In addition to choosing the zones where cannabis retail would be permitted the municipality can also require that cannabis businesses be a certain distance from places of worship, schools, playgrounds, parks and daycare facilities.”

Hopewell Township will be able to tax retail establishments up to 2% on retail sales and the township can decide whether to allow consumption areas, which can only be located at a retail establishment.

Miccio said the township can permit retail cannabis and not allow for consumption areas.

The application process for retail establishments opens up on March 15.

Police Director Robert Karmazin did raise concerns at the meeting regarding locations, flow of traffic and consumption regarding retail cannabis.

“What I have seen here so far on the wholesale side, in terms of security, I do not see any major issues. In terms of retail, not withstanding what the requirements are for the state in terms of what will have to be provided for and how they will provide the security, again, I would say we go back into the flow traffic, the flow of input, flow of people coming in,” he said.

“The difference between having something boutique and something that is not boutique or medical I think would generate a different concern potentially with security in terms of consumers coming and going.”

Karmazin would spotlight consumption as a concern due to the fact that there is yet to be a determined legal amount you are allowed for consumption, as is the case with alcohol, which measures blood alcohol content (BAC).

“So the consumption piece has yet to be determined. I really think the major concerns right now are in terms of wholesale and retail are locations and flow of traffic in and out,” Karmazin said.

Rosetta Treece, superintendent of Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD), voiced several urges from school district, such as the enforcement of at least a 1,000 feet buffer between any of the cannabis dispensaries and cultivation sites situated near our schools or athletic fields.

“Our charge as a school district is to protect the well-being and safety of our most vulnerable and fragile residents in our community – our children and young adults,” she said. “The district also requests that a portion of the tax revenues generated from legal cannabis dispensaries and sales be directed to defray the costs associated with cannabis legalization.”

They included a comprehensive public and school-based education about cannabis use and its effects on the health of students, children and the well-being of adolescents, particularly the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain.

“We would also like a policy review, training and legal implications regulating the treatment of students and staff suspected of using cannabis on our school properties. The district requests a commitment from the municipality and licensed legal dispensaries and cultivation sites in town to strictly to enforce the law prohibiting sales to minors,” Treece added.

Treece suggested that a Cannabis Task Force be conveyed in an advisory capacity to address and provide input on concerns with legal cannabis, cannabis operations in the township, enforcement, and student and community education.

For the meeting, Hugh O’Beirne, founder of Hawthorne Ave. Strategies, a consulting firm for cannabis operators, was asked to speak about the cannabis industry’s approach to retail in New Jersey.

“We believe that regulated access to cannabis is part of the solution to keeping cannabis out of the hands of children. What we do see with retail facilities when properly situated and under the state laws of New Jersey are facilities that are extremely secure, and they are facilities that you go in to buy goods that are pre-packaged,” he said.

“There will be consumption for sure and there will be people moving around the township that may have consumed, so certainly being concerned about those things and thinking how the township addresses them from a public safety point of view is absolutely critical.”

O’Beirne stressed that the amount of requirements by the state for retail dispensaries are significant and that consumption is not allowed in establishments.

“Even opening the bag in which the cannabis is packaged itself is not allowed. Upon entering the facility your ID has to be checked to make sure you are legal age and over 21,” he said. “There are security cameras at multiple locations and on staff security guards.”

When the public weighed in, Hopewell Township resident Diana Zita spoke in support of retail sales.

“This is happening regardless of whether we want it to or not. It is happening around us, Ewing, Hamilton, obviously Pennington, this gives us the opportunity to really kind of control our own environment here and do this the way we think is the correct way,” she said. “This is an opportunity for our township we should not overlook. There are a lot of revenue dollars at play, as well as a social responsibility portion.”

Louise Aucott said she is in favor of retail cannabis.

“I think people need to avoid conflating good governance with issues involved in approving retail sales of cannabis. Governance takes precedent and that is what we already pay our taxes for,” she said. “We have alcohol sales in our township and there really are no studies demonstrating that cannabis is a more dangerous or pernicious drug than alcohol. The chance the revenue that it brings in will more than cover the education and bring up to speed that we need in the township.”

Heidi Kahme, speaking for herself and the Municipal Alliance, raised concerns regarding youth access.

“Recreational cannabis is legal, but we can educate ourselves, especially young people,” she said. “I spoke to an organization called Smart Colorado, who did an extensive study that showed young adults who live in neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries use more frequently and have more positive views of the drug. Our biggest fear should be the impact of high potency marijuana concentrate products getting into the hands of young people.”

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