Hoboken Mayor Bhalla proposes changes to cannabis store rules

Hoboken Mayor Bhalla is proposing changes to the city's cannabis ordinances.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla is proposing changes to the city’s cannabis dispensary rules, in light of the local cannabis review board approving its first retail cannabis application despite criticism from the public.

In a letter to residents posted on the city’s website, Bhalla went over the recent history regarding the state and the city legalizing marijuana, saying that the legalization “provides not only a substantial economic opportunity for Hoboken, but more importantly, an opportunity for us as a community repair damage that the ‘war on drugs’ caused minority communities in Hoboken.”

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Bhalla is proposing amendments to the cannabis ordinances “after a careful review.” They include limiting the number of dispensaries (medical and marijuana) in the city to a maximum of six, and a maximum of three per ward; require notice for residents within 200 feet for a proposed dispensary for a cannabis board meeting; and prohibiting dispensaries from being located 750 feet of any school or early childhood learning facility.

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Bhalla said that there was “misinformation that has been provided to members of the community pertaining to this application specifically, and regarding the process for cannabis dispensary approval, generally.”

The application in particular was for Story Dispensary, which had applied to set up a retail cannabis store at 51 14th Street, the site of the former Hudson Tavern.

While the board approved the application at their Feb. 24 meeting, residents had grilled the applicants during a nearly five hour meeting that night, raising complaints from the lack of transparency, to the store affecting residents and the surrounding neighborhood.

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who’s 2nd Ward includes the location, said on Twitter that night that the board “should be ashamed of themselves.”

“Simultaneously insulted & ignored concerns of members of the public & defended the applicant,” she tweeted. “Literally gave their recommendations b/4 hearing the public comments.”

A few of Bhalla’s proposals seem to be in response to the criticisms from the meeting, where it was revealed at the applicants hadn’t notified residents nearby about the proposed dispensary, and concerns over the location being near child care centers.

When talking about the “great deal of misinformation,” Bhalla said that the locations where dispensaries can be located were approved unanimously by the City Council, that the current application is for retail only and not for consumption, and that the application must go through the planning board.

He also said that the board secured a number of conditions with the applicants, including the funding of an additional police officer, a $50,000 donation per year to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and an annual education program for residents about cannabis consumption.

As he talked about the locations, the mayor accused Fisher for being “disingenuous[…]who voted to approve and write into law permitted areas for dispensaries, including on 14th Street, to now take the position that it is no longer an appropriate location within her ward.”

Fisher said in response to the letter that she was “thrilled to see that Mayor Bhalla supports the majority of the common sense amendments to Hoboken’s cannabis laws I submitted on Monday morning and that we will see this on the 3/9 agenda.”

“I disagree with his revisionist history and will continue, like I always have done, to advocate for the best interests of residents of the 2nd Ward and Hoboken,” she said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.