WESTFIELD, NJ — The Westfield Town Council voted Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance “opting out” — for now —of allowing cannabis shops in town.
What partly drove the decision is that the council can change its mind at any time, members noted before the vote. Under current state legislation, a municipality that votes to prohibit the shops has no limit on when it can change its mind — but a town that votes to allow them must do so for at least five years.
With marijuana legalized last year for recreational use in New Jersey, all towns were told they must vote to opt in or opt out by this summer.
Mayor Shelley Brindle assembled at 17-member Cannabis Commission earlier this year to listen to the public and make recommendations.
“Not surprisingly, it turned out to be a mix of responses,” said Councilman Michael Dardia at the meeting.
The commission complained that the state required an answer in a “short and compressed period of time.”
Ultimately the Commission wrote in a letter Tuesday morning saying it would ask the council to say “no” to shops in town for now.
The unanimous council vote — held at the end of a 2.5-hour meeting Tuesday night — was to prohibit the operation of any class of cannabis operation in town. The measure will go to a final hearing and vote at a future meeting.
Councilman Mark Parmalee noted that Westfield has not received any serious inquires from someone wanting to open such a shop, either recently or back when medical marijuana was legalized in New Jersey.
But, he noted, “the support for [cannabis shops impacted] our decision that this doesn’t mean we’ll opt out forever.”
The letter from the Cannabis Commission is at the end of this story.
Other nearby towns have varied in their decisions. Maplewood just saw the opening of a new dispensary, while Millburn voted against the shops. READ MORE: Large Marijuana Dispensary Opens In Maplewood
Former Councilwoman Neylan’s Proposal
In March, Brindle’s opponent in the upcoming November mayoral election, former Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan, favored banning the shops for now. She suggested a proposal in March that she says will “protect our children.” The proposal is on Facebook here.
“The time is not right for pot shops downtown,” Neylan said, “walking distance from our children’s schools.”
You can watch a replay of the meeting on the town’s Facebook Live page.
Find out about state laws here.
See the cannabis commission’s letter, in full, below:
Related cannabis news in and near Westfield
Cannabis Commission Letter
Most of us know by now that the New Jersey Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, legislation legalizing and regulating recreational cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older. Among other things, this legislation requires municipalities to either “opt in” or “opt out” of the law’s provisions allowing none, one, or all of the six classes of cannabis licenses to operate within a town’s borders. These six classes include not just the operation of retail establishments within a town, but also cultivators, manufacturers, wholesale distributors and delivery services. Towns that “opt in” are committed to that decision for the next five years, while those that “opt out” may reconsider their decision at any time.
More than two-thirds of Westfield residents voted in favor of approving the 2020 New Jersey ballot initiative legalizing recreational cannabis use. So, to address this issue in a holistic and thoughtful manner, Mayor Brindle assembled a Cannabis Commission, which we led in our roles as Chairs of the Code Review & Town Property, and Public Safety, Transportation and Parking Committees, respectively, to make recommendations to the Town Council about how to move forward.
The Commission met for several hours on four occasions to, among other things, gather facts, review the law, and discuss the various issues faced by the Town as a result of legalization. One of the Commission’s meetings included a forum at which the public provided their opinions on the issue. In addition, the Town set up an email address (email@example.com) to which residents could email their thoughts and their position on whether the Town should allow cannabis sales and other cannabis activities in Town. Many residents took advantage of this opportunity, leaving insightful and constructive comments that covered a wide range of opinions on the issue. The Commission’s last meeting was held on Thursday, May 20th. At that meeting, the comments made by members of the public, as well as the many emailed public comments, were discussed at length by Commission members.
The comments from the residents of Westfield ranged from fully supportive to totally against. And without going into the detail of those comments, those in favor generally believed that we should benefit not only from the local tax revenue that can be generated from legal cannabis sales, but also from the foot traffic that such a retail location would generate. Those opposed generally believed that allowing local cannabis dispensaries would negatively impact the family-friendly nature of the Town. And in the Commission’s view, each position has varying degrees of merit.
The Commission was tasked with making a recommendation to the Town Council in what amounted to a relatively short and compressed period of time. This is because under the new state law, municipalities choosing to “opt out” are required to take affirmative legislative action by August 21, 2021. Any municipality that fails to take action by that date is considered, by default, to have opted in. Municipal decisions to opt out must be memorialized in the form of a town ordinance, and all ordinances in New Jersey can only be adopted in a two-step process at two separate meetings – introduction at one Council meeting and adoption after a public hearing at a second Council meeting. And, because the “opt in/opt out” decision is a zoning law change, such ordinances must be reviewed by the Planning Board before being formally adopted by the Mayor and Council. Put simply, Westfield needed to begin acting now to comfortably meet the August 21 deadline.
In addition to the rushed timeframe, the Commission also had to make a recommendation with incomplete information. Under the new law, the Governor and Legislature directed the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission, a body that is tasked with enacting rules and regulations regarding the specifics of how legalized and medical cannabis will operate within the State. The CRC is only beginning to develop regulations on zoning, licensing, local approval, health and safety, and to discuss other local municipal considerations. So, in other words, the law requires Westfield and other towns to make the initial opt in/opt out decision without yet fully knowing the rules of the road.
As a result, the Commission has recommended to the Town Council that Westfield “opt out” of the new cannabis law. Our recommendation is based primarily on the concern that, given the rushed manner in which towns must make the initial, important opt in/opt out decision, and considering that the rules have literally not been written yet, the appropriate step to take at this time is to adopt an ordinance “opting out” of allowing sales and other commercial cannabis activities in Westfield for the time being. Even though we are recommending an “opt out” now, Westfield can always decide to “opt in” at any time given the benefit of more information, an understanding of the applicable rules and regulations, and once we have satisfied ourselves that it is the right thing to do for our town. This recommendation should not be interpreted as the Commission being opposed for all time to allowing the sale and other commercial cannabis activities in Westfield; but in our view, while Westfield is a leader in many things, this is one area in which it would be smarter not to be a leader, given the significant unknowns.
We would be remiss if we didn’t express our immense gratitude at the thoughtful and incisive comments submitted to the Commission by so many members of the public. And as well, we are extremely thankful for the contributions of all of the members of the Commission, who have volunteered considerable amount of time and energy to evaluate the pros and cons of the issues involved here, to consider all of the known facts, and to listen with an open mind to all of the public comments.
Councilmen Mark Parmelee & Mike Dardia
Chairs, Westfield Cannabis Commission
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