Secaucus has reversed its ban on recreational cannabis establishments.The Town Council voted 5-2 at its May 10 meeting to adopt an ordinance strike down a 2021 ordinance that put a ban on the establishments.
At that time, Town Administrator Gary Jeffas said the ban was a placeholder until the town figured out where and how it wanted to allow recreational sales. The new ordinance also outlines the rules and regulations for the local industry in town.
For the first time in quite a while, a resident spoke during the public hearing for the ordinance. Doug DePice, a former teacher in town, was against the ordinance allowing recreational cannabis sales, and asked the council not to approve it.
“When I was teaching at Secaucus High School, the Board of Education spent thousands of dollars on workshops instructing faculty and staff about the dangers of marijuana,” DePice said.
DePice called cannabis a gateway drug, and said it affects behavior by making people lazy, anxious, and even “schizophrenic,” among other objections. For those reasons, he asked the council to reject the ordinance.
“By passing something like this, we’re kind of saying to the public those behaviors are okay and we’re sanctioning them,” DePice said. “I’d ask you to rethink the idea of selling it in town… I just don’t think it produces and helps to maintain a safe environment.”
Think of the revenue
In response, Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who sits on the council, said that the ordinance was introduced and got 70 percent of the council’s approval. He denoted that he was ambivalent about it, but ultimately favored passing the ordinance to reverse the ban.
“I’m not in favor it. Really, it’s all about the financials,” Gonnelli said, saying he was personally opposed to it but the revenue made him realize the benefit. “Financially, we stand to gain a lot of money by the sale of recreational marijuana.”
According to Gonnelli, the surrounding towns are going to sell recreational cannabis, and Secaucus would miss out. The ordinance levies a two percent tax on the sale of recreational cannabis, except for those made by wholesalers.
“If people don’t get it here, they’re going to go Jersey City or North Bergen,” Gonnelli said. “They’re all going to sell it. It really doesn’t do anything to us.”
Jeffas said the town expects it to be sold everywhere in the state, and that Secaucus could miss out on tons of revenue by maintaining the ban. “So when the town was looking at it, they were being mindful of the fact that it’s going to be available all over the state. Whether the mayor and council wanted it or not, the state legislature took the steps to get there.
Gonnelli noted there was only one block in town the recreational cannabis could be sold on. Jeffas clarified it consisted of five lots on the outskirts of the light industrial zone.
“We’re just trying to greatly limit the area in town where it can be, so it can be in the center of town, in the business district, or near schools,” Jeffas said.
Harmony likely to expand to recreational
According to Jeffas, Harmony Dispensary would likely be the entity to expand into recreational sales in Secaucus. However, new entities could still open on the lots in the small predetermined area if they manage.
“It’s very, very limited to the point that Harmony currently exists there, which is selling medical cannabis,” Jeffas said. “There’s not a great likelihood that anybody else would be able to open in this very limited area.”
Jeffas continued: “The only other way somebody else would open up is if a warehouse in that small section became vacant and it was suitable for them. There’s a possibility somebody else could make an application, but it’s a very limited area.”
DePice alleged that while the law prohibits the sale of cannabis to those under the age of 21, he was sure that “unprincipled” people would sell to minors. Meanwhile, Gonnelli touted Harmony Dispensary as being safe and effective. He added it has operated without issue since its inception: “With the medical marijuana, we’ve had no incidents down there.”
There were no other speakers. The council then voted 5-2 to adopt the ordinance, with Gonnelli voting yes.
Joining Gonnelli in voting in favor of the ordinance was First Ward Councilman John Gerbasio, First Ward Councilman Robert Costantino, Second Ward Councilman Mark Denhert, and Third Ward Councilman William McKeever.
Those opposed included Second Ward Councilman James Clancy and Third Ward Councilwoman Orietta Tringali. Both were opposed when the ordinance was introduced, however, McKeever did switch from being against it to being in favor.
Secaucus joins most of Hudson County
For full details on the ordinance, refer to past coverage by the Hudson Reporter when the ordinance was introduced at hudsonreporter.com/2022/03/23/secaucus-town-council-considers-allowing-recreational-cannabis-establishments, or read the ordinance online at secaucusnj.gov/government/meeting-documents/2022-mayor-council-meeting-documents/2022-agendas-mayor-council/976-05-10-2022-mayor-council-meeting-agenda/file.
With that, recreational cannabis establishments can now start the process of applying to open in Secaucus. Harmony is expected to get the ball rolling now that the ban has been lifted, according to Jeffas.
“From our understanding, their intent was to go through that process,” Jeffas said. “I can’t say how far along they are, but they are 100 percent moving in that direction.”
Now, only Union City, Weehawken, and Guttenberg are believed to be among the last municipalities with a ban still on the books for recreational cannabis establishments.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.