November 17, 2021

Cannabis Task Force Prepares Report, Proposals for Council

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Cannabis Task Force (CTF) is planning to present a report and recommendations, based on more than seven months of research, discussion, and public meetings, to Princeton Council and the public at a November 30 special Council meeting.

According to CTF Chair Eve Niedergang, who is also a Council member, the presentation will include a recommendation for a maximum of three retail dispensaries in town, with five potential designated zones, along with specific suggestions on hours of operation, social equity criteria, historical background information, and commentary on concerns raised in public meetings.

In a November 12 telephone conversation, Niedergang discussed the work of the 23-member CTF. “The thoughtfulness with which this group of people has approached this issue has really impressed me,” she said. “There’s been a lot of debate and very frank discussion and definitely differences of opinion, but I think we’ve heard a diverse group of residents speak about an important issue, and despite the differences there’s been the theme of concern for making sure that

the product is accessible to people of different economic levels. The concern for using this as a tool to promote social equity and racial justice has been universal throughout, and that’s been great to see.”

Niedergang said that the CTF, which has met frequently over the past months, with four meetings, three during the month of September, devoted to public input, might be meeting less often, probably only once or twice each month after November 30.  She noted that priorities for the CTF going forward would include consideration of what to do with the potential 2 percent tax revenue from dispensaries, how to promote further education in the community about cannabis, and possibilities for other cannabis industries like manufacturing or testing in Princeton. It has been suggested, Niedergang said, that the majority of tax revenues from dispensaries go to address continuing social equity issues.

CTF member David Nathan, a doctor and founder, past president, and director of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, emphasized the importance of regulating the cannabis industry to promote social equity and safe access, and to prevent underage use. 

“The Task Force has spent long hours in discussions with members of the Princeton community, assimilating the perspectives of both advocates and opponents of local dispensaries,” Nathan said. “We appreciate the imperative of preventing non-medical underage use, lifting up those among us who have been disproportionately harmed by the misguided war on drugs, and ensuring that all adult Princetonians have access to properly tested and labeled cannabis products.”

He continued, “This isn’t about creating a cannabis market in Princeton, but rather moving from an already thriving unregulated market to a regulated one. That’s something we should all get behind.”

CTF citizen representative Colleen Exter, a longtime Princeton resident who has raised four children here, praised the diligence and thoroughness of the CTF and stressed the importance of maintaining local control of the Princeton cannabis industry.

“We have worked exhaustively to see what other states and other towns have done,” she said. “We’ve tried to look at it from a very broad perspective, to explore it as far as we can, and I’m proud to have been a part of the process.” Exter pointed out that, in order to do due diligence and because the state’s legislation on cannabis is still being written, the CTF has chosen to move slowly and deliberately.

“As a parent I’m not naive to the challenges that this presents and to the concerns that people have,” she said. “But I came to believe during this process that it was really our best, most proactive and enlightened position to control our own narrative, to make sure that we allow operators in town that we know are held in high esteem, hoping that they will be local residents, and of course addressing social justice issues.”

Exter went on to emphasize the challenge of educating the community about cannabis. “We can use this as an opportunity to educate our children in a way that as they grow into adulthood, if they choose to partake in cannabis, they will be fully informed on the consequences. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to educate everyone in town —seniors and other adults, as well as youths.”

CTF member Udi Ofer, an ACLU civil rights attorney and Princeton University Public and International Affairs lecturer, focused on the challenges of addressing past social injustices and ensuring equity in the future.

“Princeton, like other municipalities in New Jersey and across the nation, saw decades of enforcement of marijuana prohibition that led to serious injustices,” Ofer wrote in an email.  “The Task Force reviewed 25 years of data on arrests in Princeton for marijuana possession and found consistent and even extreme racial disparities in who was arrested for marijuana in the town, with devastating impacts.”

He continued, “Therefore, our forthcoming recommendations will attempt to address these past injustices and attempt to ensure, as much as possible within the confines of municipal law, that there is equity in future enforcement of the law and in the cannabis industry. If all three are accomplished, then Princeton could be proud of the contributions it will make to advancing racial justice and creating a better and more equitable future for all.”

As the CTF continues its work, Niedergang declined to speculate on an opening date for any Princeton cannabis business, but suggested that probably some New Jersey dispensaries would begin to open by late 2022, with Princeton possibly coming on board by 2023.