Town Looks to March 29 Cannabis Meeting
By Donald Gilpin
Whether or not there should be a retail cannabis dispensary in Princeton is the question coming before Princeton Council, and at a public Zoom meeting on Tuesday, March 29 at 7 p.m. Council is expecting to hear a wide range of information and opinions on that subject.
A Zoom link will be provided at princetonnj.gov for those who would like to participate, and Council will also read comments emailed to email@example.com.
The meeting will be a “listening session” to hear from as wide-ranging a group of people in the community as possible. No specific action will be taken by Council at that time — the issue will be revisited at a future date to determine Princeton’s next steps in zoning or not zoning for retail cannabis sales.
Among the preliminary presentations planned before the public commentary segment of the meeting will be two speakers providing information about their experiences with cannabis dispensaries in their towns, reports from members of the municipal staff, and arguments and information from concerned parents.
Princeton Municipal Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic Jr. is expected to present brief reports from different departments — health, Corner House, legal counsel, police, zoning, etc. — commenting on the possible impacts of retail sales of cannabis in Princeton.
New Jersey, including the town of Princeton with 78 percent in favor, voted in a November 2020 referendum to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis in the state. The decision whether to allow dispensaries in individual towns was left to the governing bodies of those towns.
In November 2021, after more than seven months of research, discussion, and public meetings, the Princeton Cannabis Task Force, enlisted by Council as an advisory body, recommended that Council pass an ordinance permitting up to three dispensaries in town.
Discussion over the future of cannabis in Princeton has been lively since the 2020 referendum vote, but the intensity of the debate increased after the CTF recommendations last November. Groups and many individuals have spoken out in the
media and at meetings with arguments for and against local retail cannabis sales, but as one Town Topics Mailbox letter pointed out last week, “Cannabis will soon be available for legal recreational use in Princeton — whether over the counter at local dispensaries or via delivery.”
In December the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education weighed in with a public statement of concern about the impact of retail cannabis businesses in Princeton.
At its February 8, 2022 meeting the Princeton Board of Health (BOH) considered the issue of health impacts of recreational cannabis legalization as well as the specifics of the CTF report, after which they appointed a subcommittee to delve more deeply into health impacts and to present recommendations to the full BOH.
At the March 8 BOH meeting, which attracted about 60 people, the subcommittee presented its proposal of a resolution to defer approval of retail sale of cannabis in Princeton until further study and implementation of public health safeguards could take place. After much discussion, the BOH decided to neither approve nor disapprove the resolution but to send it back to the subcommittee pending further listening and research.
The BOH voted to revisit the resolution at its next meeting on April 12, after they will have heard from the community at the March 29 Council forum.
“It is not a decision of the Board of Health whether to have retail cannabis stores in Princeton or not,” said BOH Chair George DiFerdinando, who is also a member of the subcommittee that initiated the proposal to defer approval of retail sales. “We’re to advise on the health impact of recreational cannabis in general and then any health-related issues around a cannabis store.”
He continued, “The committee will listen to what’s said at the March 29 meeting. Our response will be data-based. We’re not looking to please all the people all the time. Our role is to be as objective as possible.”
Councilwoman Eve Niedergang, who also chairs the CTF, emphasized that the question currently before Council is only whether or not Princeton should zone for a cannabis dispensary.
“A lot of the concern that I have received is really focused on cannabis being legal or in schools, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with the specific issue of a dispensary in Princeton,” she said. “In my mind that is the current issue.”
She continued, “Legalization will present many new challenges on many levels, but that is not the question before us. Whether or not Princeton has a dispensary, we will have to deal with all those questions.”
Niedergang stated that the CTF, having delivered its recommendation on retail cannabis in Princeton, would be meeting in April to start to address two other cannabis-related issues: education — “materials for educating people of all ages on uses of cannabis” — and enforcement.