City Council President Rolando Lavarro told people who had come to speak out against the ordinance that the council intends to put off a vote on the measure in order to consider public comment.
Meanwhile the state legislature is considering measures that would legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey, which already has a system allowing medical marijuana under tight restrictions.
Many of those who came to protest did not appear to understand the complicated ordinance. It would make amendments to the city’s land development ordinance, which city officials say will be the first steps towards insuring any future legalization within the city is done in a strategic and equitable way.
Currently, the city’s land development ordinance does not expressly prohibit the cultivation, manufacture, warehousing, distribution, and sale of cannabis as a matter of land use, so it would be permitted citywide per current zoning ordinances.
The amendments would proactively restrict these uses so that upon state legalization, the location of warehouse and distribution centers would not be allowed in places that are not aligned with the community’s wishes, officials said.
By changing the ordinance now, the city hopes to allow residents a voice as to the location of marijuana dispensaries in Jersey City. Additionally, the city’s Planning Department has recommended several regulations and zoning changes that can be made to allow possible future dispensaries to operate in a strategic way.
“I am supporter of legalization, but it is important that Jersey City takes a proactive approach to prepare for the possible legalization of marijuana in New Jersey,” said Mayor Steven Fulop in a release. “The outlined changes to our zoning laws will help ensure that residents will be part of the process of where dispensaries and grow facilities will be permitted and will guarantee that Jersey City will have the ability to chart its own course once legalization occurs. Our goal is to be ahead of the conversation so that we don’t find ourselves in costly legal battles defending the city in the case we hadn’t prepared properly. This will ensure that residents are protected.”
The city would later establish an overlay zone that would lift these restrictions in specific designated zones.
The city also intends to create a license requirement for all establishments seeking to conduct commercial cannabis activity and parse out those licenses to include cultivation, manufacture, warehousing, distribution, research/development and sale of cannabis and cannabis products.
Some are opposed
Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to legalize marijuana in the state. Although Murphy anticipates as much as $60 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales this year’s budget, the legalization faces opposition, including State Sen. Ronald Rice, who held a hearing in Jersey City last month. To date, the legislature has yet to garner enough votes to pass any legalization bills.
A number of towns and counties throughout New Jersey also oppose allowing establishments. Two bills proposed by the state legislature would give towns up to a year to prohibit these shops. If they fail to enact a ban, those shops that open will be allowed to remain in place for five years.
Locally, Councilwoman Joyce Watterman has expressed opposition to legalization, saying that legalized marijuana does not help people who are down and out.
Like many throughout the state, she said she fears that people may seek to use marijuana as an escape and believes this might do more harm than good.
The ordinance was rejected by the city Planning Board, on which Watterman is a member.
“If we don’t do it, the town next to us will.” – Jayson Burg
Among those who spoke at the public hearing, opposition to recreational marijuana was sparse, with only Yvonne Balcer from the public speaking out against allowing recreational marijuana in Jersey City.
She cited several concerns including increased costs for auto insurance. Insurance companies may perceive places that allow recreational marijuana to be higher risks and will establish higher rates for everybody.
“This will have an impact on even those who don’t use,” she said. “If Gov. (Phil) Murphy wants recreational marijuana, let him pass it where he lives.”
But nearly all the other speakers supported recreational use, although some were a bit confused by the ordinance that outlawed it.
Many had come to speak against adopting it.
Lefty Grimes, a resident of Bayonne and an activist for the disabled, said he supported cannabis rights.
“I came here to protest, but I’m glad you’re putting off a vote on this,” he said.
Ravin Wise objected to the council’s tabling the ordinance.
“You should vote no on this,” Wise said. “People need to be educated so that they know the facts.”
Wise said there many misconceptions about marijuana use, and many people do not know the benefits.
Jayson Burg also spoke out against the ordinance and said a municipal ban can be overturned by the state if the state makes recreational use legal.
“If we don’t do it, the town next to us will,” he said.
Madeline Gotling said she was concerned about the zoning and hoped that dispensaries would be fairly dispersed around the city.
“We don’t want to see all of them located downtown,” she said.
Gotling focused on the economic benefit recreational marijuana could bring to poorer sections of the city. She said she feared big business would swoop in leaving no room for local entrepreneurs.
Andy Shahuck also supported recreational marijuana as a boon for local business people.
“It’s about entrepreneurs,” he said.
Several other residents quoted the tax benefits to the city. More ratables like marijuana grow facilities and dispensaries might help reduce the impact of a recent revaluation that has raised taxes on some property owners.
Venus Smith, who said she was from Ward F, asked the council to reject the ban, also saying that people needed to be able to have access to what could become “a $20 billion” industry.
She said minorities need to be able to take part. She said a huge majority of those currently operating recreational marijuana businesses elsewhere in the country are white men.
Jennifer Devine said she was also concerned with the ban. This ordinance, she said, sends a bad message to potential investors.
“If they see a problem in Jersey City, they’ll just go to Cranford,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.