June 30, 2021

A Cannabis Dispensary for Princeton? Many Questions Still To Be Answered

By Donald Gilpin

With many questions still to be answered, the 23-member Cannabis Task Force (CTF) has been doing its homework prior to presenting a recommendation to Princeton Council on the future of cannabis in town.

Many citizens who spoke up at a June 23 public meeting, as well as most of the task force members, favor the establishment of a dispensary in Princeton, but the details about where, how, and who, not to mention, traffic, parking, necessary restrictions, and enforcement, still have to be worked out.

According to CTF Chair Eve Niedergang, the CTF will most likely recommend to Council that Princeton opt out before the state’s August 21 deadline, with the intention of opting in later after further research to resolve issues that are still undetermined.

Despite a Zoom bombing that briefly disrupted the proceedings, last Wednesday’s two-hour public input meeting, attended by more than 50, was productive and informative, said Niedergang. 

“Some people were adamantly opposed, for the sake of their children, as they put it,” said Niedergang. “But most were in favor. Many people were generally positive but had some concerns about messaging or specific locations.”

She reported that the CTF met the next day for its regular session, and decided they needed more time to work out the details of their recommendation. “All the questions we still don’t have answers to really decided that we’re not going to opt in at this point,” she said. “The task force needs to study things further to have some questions answered that we haven’t had time to answer. We intend to present an opt-in ordinance to Council at some point in the fall.”

Niedergang noted that there was a recent suggestion and an amendment in the works at the state level to postpone the opt-in/opt-out deadline for 60 days, so the current timeframe for action is not entirely clear.

Some of the many specific questions for Princeton to research include investigation of traffic impact in other communities with dispensaries, whether dispensaries should be visited by appointment only, which of seven commercial zones in town would host dispensaries, what would be the total number, what restrictions would there be on signage and queueing, and to what extent would policing be an issue.

“There’s been a lot of debate about whether the presence of a dispensary increases use,” said Niedergang. “People were concerned that having a dispensary in town sends the wrong message to young people.”

She pointed out the difficulties involved in establishing one of the first dispensaries in the region. “If you’re the first one in the area, the traffic, parking, queueing can be major issues if not handled correctly,” she said. “If you’re the 10th and there’s another one a couple of miles down the road, then you probably don’t have to deal with many of those issues, but you may lose the benefits of being first.”

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission will not be issuing its regulations for the industry until sometime in August, so at that point Princeton’s plans for a cannabis dispensary will need to be adapted accordingly. One thing very important to the CTF, however, is to be able to have a say as to who gets a license in Princeton, Niedergang stated.

“If you limit the number of licenses and there’s competition, then you get to apply criteria such as minority ownership, ownership by women, a percentage of employees who must be people affected by the war on drugs. We’d have a chance to get at the social and racial justice issues that we’re interested in addressing.”

She continued, “This is a group that is committed to using this as a tool to address some of the inequities of the war on drugs and its impact on communities of color.”

John Bailey, social equity advocate and head of the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative (BCEI), praised Princeton’s CTF and expressed optimism that cannabis in Princeton would be an asset to the community. “Princeton is very fortunate to have Eve Niedergang’s leadership and the commitment of Leticia Fraga and Michelle Pirone Lambros leading this conversation,” he said. Niedergang, Fraga, and Pirone are all members of the CTF and also Princeton Council members.

Pointing out that, according to state law, cannabis deliveries will come to Princeton whether it opts in or not, Bailey continued, “We have the right leadership asking the right questions. Council and the mayor have committed to see that this is an economic development creator. All the cards are in the right place for something positive to happen. One of the things we have to do is continue to have the discussion about how fair this playing field will be. It’s also a state issue, a national issue, a social issue.”

The BCEI will hold its monthly community cannabis conversation on Zoom at 8 p.m. July 1, and this year’s Princeton Joint Effort celebration, also under Bailey’s leadership, will be taking up the issue of cannabis in Princeton at an in-person forum on August 3. The next Princeton CTF meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. on July 8.