This past week, I have received several Nixle’s from the Mayor’s office. The budget has passed with the next flat tax impact. The area around the train station will finally be developed. The Vision Zero program has impact and the speed limit in Hoboken is now 20 mph. Let’s not forget Covid vaccination, infection rates, and statistics. All of these communications are designed to celebrate the administration’s accomplishments, but that is by design. What isn’t being shouted about on Nixle are the issues the administration wants to sweep under the rug because they are controversial and aren’t in their best interest to discuss with the public.
Let’s take the cannabis dispensary implementation process. It wasn’t until the Story Dispensary application was submitted that the lid of this behind-the-scenes and shady process was exposed. In fact, so many issues were raised, that City Council and the Mayor needed to quickly pass a Common Sense Cannabis Dispensary ordinance addressing the issues which included keeping the dispensary at least 600 feet away from schools and limiting the number of dispensaries in town to six. This ordinance was signed too late for some applications which were allowed to be “grandfathered” under old regulations. Now, town residents are fighting two proposed cannabis dispensaries, the Story Dispensary which if approved would be located in the highly residential area of 14th and Hudson, and Blue Violets which if approved would be across the street from All Saints Episcopal Day School and Hoboken Charter School. Town residents have made clear that their issue is not about cannabis dispensaries coming into Hoboken. Residents are concerned about the city’s process of implementing the dispensaries within the city.
How did we get to this point? The administration was so eager to have the tax revenue and be the first in the state to have cannabis dispensaries that common sense was thrown to the wayside. There was no study, research, or data analysis of Hoboken-like municipalities that have already introduced dispensaries into their community. There was no public input survey to see how residents feel about the number of cannabis dispensaries and where they should be located. In fact, if it weren’t for the significant amount of “shade” and public concern regarding the Story Dispensary, residents might not have realized what was happening.
The Bhalla administration is not afraid of doing impact studies and surveys when they need resident support and buy-in, for example, the Vision Zero study, the water remediation study, and let’s not forget the proposed new Multipurpose Center survey. The administration sent out a Multipurpose Center survey asking residents if they wanted a swimming pool and fitness facility to draw in support for a multi-million dollar building. A project where the town doesn’t own the land or have the money to build. The administration was using the survey to apply pressure on City Council members opposed to the project to push the project forward. It was the strategy.
The administration didn’t have the same strategy for the Cannabis Dispensary implementation process. They didn’t want public support and wanted to bring the dispensaries into town without anyone noticing. The last Nixle I received from the Mayor’s office regarding cannabis dispensaries was after the issues surrounding the Story Dispensary application were exposed and the Mayor wanted to throw a member of the City Council under the bus.
There are four members of the City Council who have been on the record admitting they made a mistake in allowing the dispensaries to go forward without proper research and public input. Some members have asked the Mayor’s office to pause the implementation process so it can be more thoroughly studied. The answer has been “no” without too much explanation. It seems city hall fears litigation from the dispensaries, so instead of doing the right thing for the town, the Mayor’s office has decided to hide behind closed doors and hope it works itself out quietly. This is why we haven’t received a Nixle regarding the topic.