June 2, 2021

Task Force Prepares Recommendation On Future of Cannabis in Princeton

By Donald Gilpin

Following the passage last November of a ballot issue to legalize recreational use of cannabis in New Jersey and the governor’s signing of follow-up legislation into law on February 22, Princeton is faced with a decision of whether to opt in or opt out on allowing any of six cannabis industry licenses (cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distribution, retail, and delivery).

With an August deadline, many related decisions still to be made, and much information from the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission still forthcoming, Princeton can choose to opt out now and then opt in at any later point or to opt in now with a lock-in period of five years.

Cannabis Task Force (CTF) Chair Eve Niedergang, a Princeton Council member, pointed out that the decision is not really over whether or not there will be cannabis in Princeton. “It’s really important to remind people that, because of the way New Jersey law is written, deliveries will be allowed everywhere,” she said. “So there’s nothing we can do even if we want to prevent deliveries here. If people are objecting because they don’t want cannabis in the community, that battle has already been fought and lost.”

The CTF started meeting in April, with a subcommittee on economic and community impact working on the question of whether to opt in to any element of the cannabis industry and, if yes, where to zone for such an industry and what to do with the tax revenues that might be generated. There is also a subcommittee on education, outreach, and enforcement, working on delivering educational messages for different populations and recommending prosecutorial and police enforcement around cannabis that reflects the community’s values.

Given the short time frame for making the initial opt-in or opt-out decision and the current lack of specificity on state regulations from the CRC, Niedergang is leaning towards postponing the decision by opting out as a temporary measure.

“I feel comfortable making a temporary decision that has only minor implications, but making a major decision without community input is not how I want to operate, and I don’t think anyone on Council would want to operate that way,” she said.

Both the Princeton CTF and the state CRC have meetings scheduled for this week. The CTF, Princeton Council, and the state have committed to keeping social and racial justice in the forefront of all discussions and recommendations concerning the cannabis industry.

“The CTF will, using the best data available and up-to-date science on the impact of cannabis use, develop the most accurate and effective educational message for minors, adults, and senior citizens for this now-legal product,” according to the Princeton municipal website. “Finally, the CTF will investigate how Princeton can best affirm its commitment to social and restorative justice in terms of how cannabis policing and enforcement is done.”

The 23-member CTF includes local representatives from the medical, business, law enforcement, and legal communities, as well as public schools, social services, Princeton University, municipal government, and a number of other organizations.

Princeton Council has been advised by its attorney that a decision to opt in would involve a land use ordinance and would have to go through the Planning Board before coming back to Council, so this month would be the actual effective date for making a decision before the August deadline.

Niedergang noted some reluctance among committee members to opt out, fearing that opting out would send an indication of Princeton’s lack of interest, but she disagreed. “My understanding is that it would send a signal that we’re not ready to commit to something when we don’t know what the rules and regulations will be and what will be the impact,” she said. “The CRC doesn’t expect to have its rules determined until sometime in August, but towns are being asked to make decisions about what they want to do without all the information they need to make those decisions.”

Niedergang expects that Princeton and the state will know more after this week, as the work of the CTF continues. She expects her committee to complete its task by the end of 2021, with a consensus on Princeton’s participation in the cannabis industry and a final recommendation to Council.

In the meantime she is anticipating significant public input through ongoing committee meetings, all open to the public, and a larger public meeting on the issue. “There will be concerns that people will have. People who are advocates for having it in the community and people who are opposed will want to be heard, and that’s what local democracy is all about,” she said. 

Niedergang said she has received a few emails from people eager to see the cannabis industry as a way to attract people to the downtown area and also as a way to generate revenue for social equity and racial justice causes. 

She has also heard from a number of people interested in exploring Princeton as a possible cannabis business location and one email opposed to opting in on any aspect of the cannabis industry, but she suspects that the issue “hasn’t really come to the front of people’s consciousness yet.”

So far at its meetings the CTF has heard presentations from Hugh O’Beirne, CTF member and Cannabis Advisory Group co-founder; Municipal Planner Michael LaPlace; and Zoning Officer Derek Bridger; and a briefing from Municipal Attorney Trishka Waterbury.

The June 10 meeting will feature presentations on the effects of cannabis on the brain at various ages by CTF member and neuroscientist Abby Kalmbach and CTF member and Doctors for Cannabis Regulation founder David Nathan. The July 8 meeting will focus on “Cannabis and social justice — what can Princeton do?”

The CTF meeting schedule is posted on the municipal website (princetonnj.gov) for people who are interested in listening or commenting, and the CTF is also welcoming community input in the subcommittees.

“The CTF would love to hear from voices in the community, or individuals can reach out to me directly,” Niedergang said.