BOH Weighs In on Cannabis in Princeton
By Donald Gilpin
A proposed resolution generated by a three-member committee of the Princeton Board of Health (BOH), scheduled to be discussed at last night’s March 8 BOH meeting (after press time), recommends that any action to approve retail sales of cannabis in Princeton be deferred pending extensive additional planning and preparations to minimize possible negative effects.
At its last meeting on February 8, the nine-member BOH held a discussion — first among BOH members, and then with participants from the general public — to consider the health impacts of recreational cannabis legalization and the specifics of the Princeton Cannabis Task Force’s November 23, 2021 report to Princeton Council, which recommended that the town permit a maximum of three retail dispensaries in town. A BOH work group was scheduled to present its findings and any recommendations at last night’s meeting.
Princeton voters overwhelmingly supported the November 2020 state referendum to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis in New Jersey, but the question of retail sales in Princeton has given rise to increasingly heated debate at public meetings, in the press and social media, and elsewhere.
The BOH workgroup — Meredith Hodach Avalos, internist at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center; George DiFerdinando, general internist and longtime public health program director; and Rick Strauss, a pediatrician — created a 12-page research report including background on cannabis and health impacts, and sections titled “Use Trends: General and Among Higher Risk Populations,” “Actions That Are Likely to increase or Decrease Youth Cannabis Use,” and “Predicting
Local Health Impacts of Recreational Cannabis Legalization and Sale.”
A two-page draft resolution follows with 16 points, the last five suggesting specific actions that the community should take either immediately, prior to implementation of retail cannabis sales in the state in general, or in the short- or long-term future before opting for the opening of a dispensary in Princeton.
“It’s a strong position,” said DiFerdinando, “which could be summed up as:
‘We haven’t prepared the town for even the sale of recreational cannabis that’s going to occur without a dispensary, so the first thing we need to do is prepare the town, especially schools, the health department, the police department, etc.’”
He continued, “The Board of Health doesn’t know exactly what to do, so we’re trying to say from a public health point of view, these are the things that ought to be done to prepare for recreational sales in order to minimize harm.”
Immediate actions necessary to serve residents who may have health issues with use of cannabis would include planning how to prevent youth access to delivery sales and how to prevent accidental ingestion.
Before allowing retail sales in Princeton, the proposed resolution calls for near-term planning and actions to minimize harms for high-risk community members, including toddlers, middle and high school students, those pregnant, and those over 65.
The resolution goes on to call for community-based public health education and prevention programs, as well as training by the Princeton Health Department and other organizations to enforce age-of-sale laws and advertising restrictions, as well as point-of-sale regulations.
The proposed resolution also calls for sufficient resources to be allocated to monitor and report on the impact of recreational cannabis policies on vulnerable populations.
The full report and draft resolution can be found in the BOH agenda for its regular meeting on March 8 at princetonnj.gov.
There were 45 community members at the February meeting of the BOH, and last night’s meeting was anticipated to have even higher attendance along with strong participation from the public.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” said CTF Chair and Princeton Councilmember Eve Niedergang in a March 7 phone conversation. A Council work session to hear additional input from the public and others on the question of retail sales in Princeton is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m.
Niedergang felt that the BOH report and proposed resolution had not fully addressed the narrow particular issue currently on the table for Princeton Council. “They’re addressing a much broader issue than the question in front of Council, which is the narrow question of whether Princeton should zone for a dispensary or not,” she said. “They say that we shouldn’t do that until we have perfect knowledge. That’s a disappointing take because we’re never going to have perfect knowledge about anything.”
She went on, “They address a broad range of issues, pointing out a real problem here in Princeton and in New Jersey and the whole country. There are a lot of people, teenagers and others, who are abusing drugs.”
Niedergang suggested that a dispensary, where those under 21 would be prohibited entry, would not be a place where Princeton kids would be getting cannabis. “There’s a lot of fear about the legalization and that’s being funneled into this one thing that has much narrower applications,” she added.