February 23, 2022

Town Approach to Cannabis is Lacking in Democratic Principles

To the Editor:

Many have heard about the Cannabis Task Force’s (CTF) recommendations to Princeton Council to allow retail marijuana dispensaries as close as 200 feet to schools, with no setbacks required for houses of worship, drug treatment centers, playgrounds, or child care centers. There have been several unusual and discomforting aspects associated with the CTF’s process.

First, the CTF began by assuming Princeton residents want retail recreational cannabis dispensaries, simply citing a much different vote: the New Jersey vote to decriminalize. However, as Princeton voters we did not vote to put marijuana dispensaries a one-minute walk from our schools and promote their usage in town. Why would Princeton be an outlier vs. the 71 percent of other N.J. municipalities that have opted out of this program? Further, several democratic tools (polls, surveys, and petitions) are showing Princeton voters want the opposite. A NextDoor poll with over 350 participants is showing the majority oppose dispensaries in town. A petition on Change.org against dispensaries in Princeton now has over 800 signatures, having grown consistently over time. A poll in Princeton Perspectives indicated 60 percent oppose dispensaries in Princeton.

Second, the CTF recommendations were written by a group of pro-cannabis participants, including several individuals with state and national roles promoting the cannabis industry. Three members of the six on town Council have taken part, seemingly creating a situation where the vote was determined before it even reached the Council. Shouldn’t the Council take extra care to avoid the appearance of impropriety? Would we invite the American Petroleum Institute to help our town decide if we can drill oil wells and dictate how close to our schools we can drill?

So far Eve Niedergang, who leads the CTF along with Princeton Council members Michelle Pirone Lambros and Leticia Fraga, has indicated the town cannot do a survey or poll. Why not? Westfield and many other N.J. towns did a poll on this subject. Do we not have the resources to ensure a democratic approach to this complicated, expensive, time consuming, and divisive issue? An issue that impacts public safety and negatively impacts educational and occupational outcomes?

The evidence from polls and surveys thus far shows that Princeton residents are not in favor of recreational retail cannabis dispensaries, yet the CTF has recommended the most aggressive setbacks in the state. They have not attempted to reconcile any differences with the Princeton BOE, which also opposes the CTF’s recommendation. The failure of the Council members involved with the CTF to follow a democratic approach and the failure to follow principles of a representative democracy on this issue is a social injustice that must be addressed. To stick up for town residents’ voices being counted, reach out to all the Council members and mayor on this issue.

David Jenkins
Leabrook Lane