May 25, 2022

Sharing Thanks and Gating Factors Before Topic of Opening Retail Cannabis Shops is Raised Again

To the Editor:

Given the strong public sentiment on both sides, we recognize that whether to open retail cannabis shops was not a simple decision for the Princeton Council. The public health risks to our community, especially the vulnerable and our children, outweigh the perceived benefits.

We would like to publicly thank the Board of Health (BoH), especially George DiFerdinando, Meredith Hodach-Aalos, Rick Strauss, and JoAnn Hill for their medical expertise, for being brave stewards of this community’s public health and for maintaining your Hippocratic oath. Thank you also to the Board of Education (BoE) for their position statement, and to Council wo/men Dave Cohen, Michelle Pirone Lambros, Mia Sacks, and Mayor Mark Freda for listening to the BoH, BoE, and for keeping an open mind before reaching your decisions. Thank you for engaging with us and many others in our community in respectful dialogue. Your admirable approach reinforces our belief in the democratic process. Eve Niedergang, we know how passionate you felt about the mission of the Cannabis Task Force, and yet you publicly conceded that now is not the right time to proceed. We recognize and appreciate that you put this town’s will above your own, despite the personal disappointment. 

There are two gating factors before we can raise the topic of opening retail cannabis shops anew. First, our community needs education.  Cannabis — legal and illegal — is already in Princeton, including in our middle school and high school, and we know that we aren’t managing well.  With the recent cannabis legalization in New Jersey, the situation will get worse. Let’s get community education and support tools in place for all people who are already using cannabis or are considering using, such that they are informed and use it responsibly. Cannabis education must be formulated and run by mental health and drug addiction experts, with strong partnership and engagement from our public schools. This effort must be organized and funded expeditiously. We must first demonstrate to ourselves that we are managing well before we establish new cannabis sales channels in Princeton.

Second, the CRC must tighten cannabis THC regulation, product testing, and develop state-level certification for budtenders. There are currently no state-level certifications of cannabis retail staff to instill confidence that they are knowledge experts, and nobody to hold accountable for ignorant advice that causes harm, as you might a doctor or pharmacy. Inconsistencies or absence of product testing must be addressed, and product labels must be enhanced to include warnings and usage guidelines.

In a few years, when the decision to open retail cannabis shops comes up again, we hope that the future members who evaluate the decision are representative of our community demographic; have no ties to the cannabis industry; have nothing to gain financially from the outcome of the decision; includes teachers, mental health experts, physicians; and above all: the group is welcoming and tolerant of all voices and perspectives. The latter describes the Princeton we know and love, and why we all chose to live here and raise our families.

Rita Rafalovsky
Library Place

Jian Chen
Ettl Farm

Minzhi Liu
Wendover Drive

Grace Zhang
Hemlock Circle