Cannabis Task Force Prepares to Propose Ordinance for Dispensaries
By Donald Gilpin
Princeton’s Cannabis Task Force (CTF) is preparing to recommend an ordinance for Princeton Council permitting three cannabis dispensaries in town. The CTF is seeking input at two public meetings in the next 10 days, on Thursday, September 9 at 7 p.m. on Zoom (link available on the municipal website at princetonnj.gov) and Saturday, September 18 at 10 a.m. in person, location to be determined, or on Zoom depending on weather and COVID-19.
“The purpose of these meetings is to get people to weigh in on the proposed recommendations of the CTF to allow three retail establishments in town,” said Councilwoman and CTF Chair Eve Niedergang in a September 6 phone interview. “We’re reaching out to the public. We want people to be aware of this and the earlier we get input from the public the earlier we can take advantage of that input.”
The 23-member CTF, appointed by the municipality of Princeton, chose to opt out on the state’s August 21 deadline for passing ordinances for the cannabis industry in town. Their goal is to prepare an ordinance to opt in at some point this fall. The CTF felt that the community needed more time to solicit community input and develop plans and requirements that fit Princeton’s values and needs.
Niedergang explained that the CTF has been considering which of the town’s seven commercial zones might be the most appropriate locations for cannabis dispensaries. The discussion has been lively, she said, but the members seem to be in agreement on moving ahead with public meetings followed by an October recommendation to Council, if possible.
The Princeton zones under consideration include the central business district, the northern portion of Witherspoon Street, Jugtown near the intersection of Nassau and Harrison streets, the Alexander Street/Road area, the Princeton Shopping Center, and two areas on Route 206: one south of the Municipal Building near Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad and another near Bottle King.
The CTF plans to recommend that cannabis dispensaries follow the same rules that currently regulate liquor stores regarding location (not within a certain distance of a school), hours of operation, and other constraints.
Municipalities are permitted to impose a 2 percent tax on cannabis operations, but the CTF has not yet made any decisions about how that revenue would be spent. “We want to get started talking about this with the public,” Niedergang said. “The CTF is very focused on using that money to address the ills of the war on drugs, to address issues of social justice and equity. What the shape of that would be is a conversation that’s just beginning.”
The ordinance proposal that the CTF hopes to present to Council in October will not include a recommendation as to how the revenue from cannabis should be used. Up to this point the CTF has been concentrating on the particulars of its initial ordinance and has just started to hold discussions on the question of how Princeton can best seek to make amends for some of the harm caused by the war on drugs.
A CTF meeting during the day on Thursday, September 9, before the Thursday evening public meeting, will feature presentations by the Rev. Charles Boyer, a leader in social justice issues and in the campaign to abolish the drug war and the criminalization of Black people, and Princeton University Professor Udi Ofer, an ACLU civil rights lawyer and CTF member.
“We hope these discussions will continue in public meetings and beyond,” said Niedergang. In addition to pushing ahead to resolve the details of a retail cannabis ordinance recommendation and related social justice issues, the CTF will also be considering, with public input, whether to broaden the scope of cannabis recommendations into the area of manufacturing, testing, cultivation, and other industry possibilities.
Niedergang noted that the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) last month issued its 160 pages of regulations for the state’s cannabis industry. She was pleased to see both the social equity emphasis and the amount of discretion granted to the individual municipalities to decide what businesses can open in their towns. In order to apply for the required state license to open a dispensary, a business must first have zoning approval and a resolution from the governing authority in the local municipality.
“That is very encouraging from my perspective, “said Niedergang. “The CRC is giving towns a lot of discretion about what businesses can open there.”
“We all have concerns,” said Niedergang, as much of the discussion in CTF meetings so far has centered around the particulars of opening dispensaries in town, with debates about different neighborhood locations, the number of cannabis establishments, and the perennial Princeton issues of traffic and parking.