Mayor Bhalla’s City Council Voting Block Chose Cannabis Over Kids

Dear Editor:

The City Council has let the Hoboken residents know in a 5-4 vote that having a cannabis dispensary approximately 200 feet from two schools is no big deal. The decision was made before anyone entered the Council Chambers despite compelling public comments and concerns. The City Council never addressed ANY of the resident’s legitimate concerns which centered around child/school safety and community benefits, instead the Council gave nonsensical statements that they believed gave them cover for approving Blue Violets Dispensary.

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The Majority Council Position

1. “The World is not ending this evening. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up and find that the sun still rises in the east, our families still love us and we still have to go to work.”

Joe Quintero started off his justification for opening up a dispensary across the street from the school with this soliloquy. This was the beginning of what would be a lecture from the majority council with every message delivered in a condescending manner that the City Council knows better than its residents.

2. The Planning Board’s feelings are hurt

This was the sentiment of several Council members. Most people would agree that Planning Board members are volunteers and it isn’t an easy job, but members of City Council felt the need to defend them because of some dubious decisions made regarding the Blue Violets hearing. During the Planning Board meeting, an objection was made regarding the legality of the “Time of Application” statute, the Planning Board and its attorney could not render an opinion. In fact, the meeting went into back-and-forth discussion which made clear to the public that they had no idea what to do. When members of the Planning Board asked for legal guidance the Planning Board attorney said something to affect, “when there’s ambiguity in the law, we lean to the side of the applicant.” This upset residents.

3. “It may be that it’s as bad as we feared, or may turn out not as bad as we feared.”

Phil Cohen wanted to make the “let’s see how it goes” argument. Residents made in public comments that it defies common sense that the city would experiment with a dispensary so close in proximity to the schools even if there were a remote possibility of putting the council’s most vulnerable constituents, children, and their school communities at risk. Evidently, Phil doesn’t believe in common sense arguments and is willing to roll the dice.

4. There is a Vape Shop across the street!!!

First, “two wrongs don’t make a right” but thank you Emily Jabbour for pointing this out. All Saints has been complaining about the Vape Shop since it opened. It was the city’s zoning laws that allowed that business to go in, in the first place. Could you please get rid of that store and all of the improper alcohol advertising on that corner? You have the power to do it!

5. The word “fear-mongering” is in the public ethos and members of the City Council are using it.

“Fear-mongering” along with “stigmatizer” are labels used as a cudgel to shame residents from voicing their legitimate concerns. Residents have been repeatedly stating that this issue has nothing to do with cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken. In fact, most residents are in favor of cannabis dispensaries opening in Hoboken. In the case of Blue Violets, it has always been about its location and proximity to the schools.

6. It seems it’s harder to get a deck approved on the back of your house than it is to open a cannabis dispensary.

A point was made that during zoning/planning board meetings, residents have been in tears when their projects were rejected by either of the land use boards. Blue Violet’s application soared through the process without having to present a traffic or architecture study to the public or board.

7. City Council continues to conflate recreational and medicinal cannabis usage.

Several members of the City Council used the need for medicinal cannabis for cancer, anxiety, postpartum-related issues, as arguments for approving Blue Violets. Nobody disagrees that cannabis has a valuable medicinal purpose. Reminder, we are talking about a recreational dispensary. A maximum of six dispensaries will be opening in Hoboken’s mile square. That means a cannabis purchaser will only need to walk a few blocks away to a dispensary. Residents argue that asking a cannabis purchaser to walk 600 feet away from the schools to get to a dispensary is not an undue burden whether for medicinal or recreational purposes.

8. I am a social worker so I know better.

Emily Jabbour found herself in an awkward position. She is the face of Moms Demand Action and Vision Zero, and this vote seemed to be in conflict with a mother who advocates for child safety. She decided her approach was to divorce her “mom” role in the decision. Instead, she decided to be a social worker for this meeting and as such is more qualified to decide on whether Blue Violet should be on the corner of 7th and Washington dismissing research presented by residents. She throws out the “family and kids first” position and takes on the “cannabis purchaser first” position. Not sure how she reconciles that but she does need to sleep at night.

9. Those who need cannabis feel bullied.

Wow! This is another cudgel. Reminder, those who oppose Blue Violets, oppose its location only. Nobody cares if you use cannabis! Members of the City Council are using words like “fear-mongering” and “stigmatization” in the public forums in order to create an inaccurate image of residents who oppose Blue Violets. If the statement is accurate, that residents of the community feel cannabis bullied, then maybe they should look to the City Council which is perpetuating that narrative.

10. We respect everyone’s opinion.

Many of the Council members would start their statements with “I respect everyone’s opinion” which led the public to wait for the “but….we know better than you.” speech. When you have to say, “I respect everyone’s opinion” over and over, you know it’s a phrase they want to hide behind but is completely disingenuous. The public is not stupid and sees right through these condescending statements.

One might wonder why the City Council would take such a position when the optics are poor and potential litigation has arisen. Look no further than Story Dispensary, applying in a C3 zone, also against our Common Sense Cannabis ordinance. If the Council rejected Blue Violets on any basis, it would open the precedent of rejecting any cannabis dispensaries in violation of the common sense ordinance. There is too much political favor and money to gain with Story’s potential approval (future Gubernatorial candidate Steve Fulop’s wife and his SuperPAC director are the defacto owners of said property). This City Council majority wants to ensure Story Dispensary sails through and doesn’t want to have any conflict with that vote. So…City Council decided to risk the health, safety, and well-being of the children in this community for political favor and money. Let that sink in.

It’s all about Story.

Elizabeth Urtecho

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