PATERSON — The mayor’s plan for legalized marijuana businesses has run into criticism from City Council members calling for numerous changes, such as increasing the minimum distance between cannabis stores and homes, schools and houses of worship.
Council members said they want tighter restrictions on the number of cannabis businesses that would be allowed in Paterson, their hours of operation and their zoning status. City legislators also said the plan should increase the number of city residents the establishments must hire, impose higher penalties for violators and create additional provisions benefiting minority-owned businesses.
With the city estimating it could collect as much as $1.5 million in annual fees from the cannabis industry, council members say the proposed law ought to set aside portions of the marijuana revenue for recreation programs, the Public Works Department and property tax relief.
“I went through this paper here,” said Councilwoman Ruby Cotton, holding a copy of the mayor’s proposed ordinance during last week’s council meeting, “and there’s so much stuff here that I thought was totally, already wrong.”
Mayor Andre Sayegh said his staff would revise the proposed ordinance to address the governing body’s concerns in time for the council’s Aug. 4 meeting.
But the Sayegh administration is working under a tight deadline: The state law legalizing marijuana requires municipalities to enact ordinances regulating the businesses by Aug. 21. The council needs to give the revised plan preliminary approval, conduct a public hearing on it and then take a final vote in favor of the ordinance before Aug. 21.
If Paterson doesn’t take action by then, the city would have to wait five years before it could impose any regulations on the cannabis businesses and collect taxes and fees from them, officials said.
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The council also could opt out of the state’s cannabis program, in essence deciding it won’t allow any of the businesses to operate in the city, officials said.
The distance requirement for marijuana stores was cited as a problem by many council members during last week’s meeting. Councilman Al Abdelaziz noted that the original ordinance banned cannabis businesses from operating within 200 feet of a home, school or house of worship. Meanwhile, he pointed out, the ordinance also prohibits the retail stores from being within 800 feet from each other.
Abdelaziz called those provisions “a slap in the face,” arguing they were designed to protect the business interests more than the residents.
“It should be 800 feet across the board,” the councilman asserted.
Abdelaziz also questioned the zoning designations for the businesses, saying they would be allowed in many residential sections of the city. He said the city should designate limited cannabis districts, possibly on the outskirts of Paterson.
“We need to be strategic,” he said.
The city’s use of the revenue from the marijuana businesses looms as another hurdle. Abdelaziz said half the money should be used for something akin to homeowner rebates, Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms said 50% should be used to increase Public Works Department employees’ pay, and Councilman Alex Mendez said half should go to recreation.
Council President Maritza Davila noted that it would be mathematically impossible to earmark 50% of the income for all three initiatives.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.