PATERSON — In an effort to buy extra time, the City Council is moving to ban all recreational marijuana businesses from Paterson, despite Mayor Andre Sayegh’s support for an initiative he says could produce $1.5 million in annual fees.
In an 8-0 vote late Wednesday night, the council gave preliminary approval to opting out of the state’s recreational cannabis program. Sayegh’s plan would have allowed as many as 36 businesses to cultivate, manufacture, sell and deliver the marijuana.
“I think the whole city is going to smell like marijuana,” said Councilman Shahin Khalique, who has opposed the marijuana business plan ever since it was proposed.
Other members of the council have made it clear that they eventually would like to strike some sort of compromise to allow some types of cannabis businesses in Paterson — and to reap the revenue those enterprises would generate in license fees and taxes — but only if they are strongly regulated.
“The black market is here and we are getting nothing from it,” said Council President Marita Davila, asserting that Paterson eventually should enact a city law permitting businesses.
The state law legalizing marijuana says municipalities that wish to impose restrictions on the cannabis industry in their borders must adopt local laws doing so by Aug. 21. The law also allows cities to opt out of the cannabis business program, with the understanding that they later join in.
“Why rush it?” said Councilman Luis Velez, saying the city needed more time to come up with a good plan. “Why do this so fast?”
During the past six weeks, Sayegh’s staff and council members have been trying to craft regulations determining such things as how close marijuana stores would be permitted to open near homes, schools and houses of worship. Sayegh’s original plan said the distance had to be 200 feet.
But council members said that was too close and proposed it should be between 800 and 1,000 feet. The mayor’s staff changed its proposal to set the distance at 300 feet. Sayegh’s law director, Aymen Aboushi, said making the distance 1,000 feet from homes, schools and houses of worship essentially would have banned the cannabis businesses, or limited them to such a small area that they would have been highly concentrated in one section of the city.
After voting down the mayor’s plan on Wednesday, the council then gave preliminary approval to the “opt-out option.” The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and take a final vote on opting out on Aug. 18.
When asked about the council’s rejection of his plan, Sayegh cited a statistic that he repeated has used as his explanation for Paterson allowing cannabis businesses in the city — the fact that 76% of local votes were in favor of legalization.
“We will continue to work the council to fulfill the people’s mandate,” Sayegh said.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org