A public hearing is set for the next Mt. Olive Township Council meeting on Tuesday, May 4, to discuss an ordinance that prohibits any class of cannabis business in Mt. Olive’s borders.
Ordinance #10-2021 was introduced for first reading on April 6, and the second reading was scheduled for the last meeting held April 20 but the council decided to table any action until the public hearing next month. If the ordinance is passed next month, businesses will be prohibited from obtaining any of the six licenses in town dealing with the cultivating, selling, manufacturing, distributing, and transporting of marijuana in Mt. Olive.
Since New Jersey voters approved Public Question No. 1 in 2020 which amended the N.J. Constitution to allow for the legalization of a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis” for adults aged 21 and older, townships throughout the state have been wrestling with the same decision as to how they will regulate these licenses in their jurisdiction. Townships have until Aug. 21 to decide on their municipal regulation or prohibition of these licenses. If they fail to act, the law will permit the growing, cultivating, manufacturing, selling and reselling of cannabis and cannabis items in all industrial zones as well as commercial and retail zones for a period of five years.
The council decided to prohibit all such licenses until they receive more information from the state and explore their options in greater detail. Opting out now will still allow the township to opt back in at any given time, officials say. “There are a lot of unknowns about it,” says Council President Joe Nicastro. “There’s a lot of unknowns yet; I guess they’ll clear it up eventually. We should definitely consider opting out because we could always agree to opt in. I don’t think we’re opting out forever.”
Councilwoman Colleen Labow, agrees, “We don’t have to get in the thick of it,” suggesting she would rather wait and see what the other towns are doing first. “Then we can make decisions.”
Labow mentions the town of Boonton which grows cannabis.
“It’s a big concern,” she says, because of the issue of smell as it involves constantly harvesting flower that “have a horrible smell.” Since 2012, 17 states have legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21; 36 states have legalized medical marijuana. N.J. was one of four states in November to win the vote legalizing recreational cannabis.
N.J. Cannabis Legislation
Mt. Olive Twp. Attorney Fred Samrau presented details of the N.J. Cannabis Legislation to the township council at the March 23 meeting.
On Feb. 22, N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the N.J. Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act which legalizes the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older and establishes a comprehensive regulatory and licensing scheme for commercial recreational (adult use) cannabis operations, use and possession.
The act also establishes six marketplace classes of licensed businesses which include: Cannabis Cultivator licenses which allows facilities to grow and cultivate cannabis; Cannabis Manufacturer license for facilities involved in the manufacturing, preparation and packaging of cannabis items; Cannabis Wholesaler license for facilities involved in obtaining and selling cannabis items for later resale by other licenses; Cannabis Distributor license for businesses involved in transporting cannabis plants or items in bulk from one licensed cultivator to another licensed cultivator; Cannabis Retailer license for locations at which cannabis items and related supplies are sold to consumers; and Cannabis Delivery license for businesses providing courier services for consumer.“
All towns are wrestling with this,” says Samrau. He explains that towns have 180 days to enact ordinances or opt out until 2026. He says that if the town opts in, the retail stories are allowed to operate their business for five years under the new law. If it prohibits any of the first five classes, then it can change its minds. Samrau specifies that the last section on Cannabis Delivery or commerce can not be prohibited.
“You cannot prohibit businesses from coming in to deliver to a resident,” says Samrau. He says that the issue with Cannabis Cultivator licenses is the concern as to where these establishments will be permitted. There are concerns with odor, or location as placement next to a school would be unadvised.“
It’s important whatever you decide you have zoning in place,” says Samrau. Officials need to consider residential, set-backs, parks. As far as Cannabis Retail, officials need to consider whether it wants to allow businesses to open throughout the town or in one area of town.
Mt. Olive Twp. Attorney Johnathan Testa spoke about the tax benefit with Cannabis retail. While he is still awaiting specifics from the state, he says the local level would get 2 percent tax revenue. Because of the tax benefit, officials say they may want to consider allowing the sale of legalized cannabis at retail stores in town to get the tax benefit. The township also needs to address employment practices at the workplace as far as recreational cannabis use while at work
"You can be on the frontier with this,” says Samrau, “or wait to get the direction.” Council Vice President Alex Roman suggests opting out with an ordinance instead of waiting for the August deadline.
Since the March presentation, a cannabis cultivating company reached out to the council inquiring on whether it will be allowing businesses to come in to cultivate. “One did engage in the issue,” says Mt. Olive Twp. Business Administrator Andrew Tatarenko during the April 20 Mt. Olive Twp. Council meeting, adding that this individual did not have a specific site in mind to grow cannabis. This company has requested to present to the council.
Labow says she thinks it would be interesting to learn about what this business is looking for, what it needs and what it plans to cultivate.
Tatarenko agrees “it would be informative” to find out more about cultivating cannabis.
Roman suggests a small group of township officials meet with this individual to learn more. Tatarenko suggests the police chief, health department, zoning and some council members attend such a meeting.
Police Chief Discusses Cannabis Laws
On Thursday, April 22, at 7 p.m., Mt. Olive Police Chief Stephen Beecher led a public discussion via ZOOM about the legalization of marijuana, its rules and laws. Nicastro tells the 21 residents the council’s position.
“When it was put into law, we had the opportunity to be part of this with retail shops or we can opt out,” explains Nicastro. He says, the problem is “we are not clear on all the laws and what they mean.” Just because the township may opt out right now, “does not mean it will not be ruled out later.” He says the township is “waiting for all the rules and regulations first.”
According to Beecher, in N.J. 67 percent voted for legalizing marijuana for those aged 21 and over, and 33 percent voted against the law. According to the new legislation, cannabis or legal marijuana under 6 oz. for anyone over 21 is now legal in N.J., explains Beecher. In addition, anyone over 21 can possess 17 grams or less of hashish, which is a more potent form of marijuana, Beecher explains.
The new legislation “dictates to law enforcement how they do their job,” he says. Any person who has more than the legal amount can be summoned and then released, says Beecher.
Any person who distributes marijuana can be charged with a crime, he says. Anyone charged with a fourth-degree crime will not be taken into custody. Any person found to be distributing more than one ounce or less than five pounds can be charged with a third-degree crime.
Another change has been made regarding Statute 2C:33-15 which now specifies that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess hashish, marijuana, cannabis and alcohol. First violation will receive a warning: Anyone under the age of 18 will receive a written notification to parents or guardian. Second violation will include community service. Anyone underage will not be taken into custody, says Beecher, but they can be charged with a fourth-degree crime.
Beecher also explains the difference between marijuana and regulated cannabis. He says marijuana is illegal as it is not regulated, can be bought off the street from the Black Market and it is unknown of its potency. Cannabis, on the other hand, is regulated marijuana that meets certain standards as far as being taxed and in specific form.
Another new law 2C:33-6 Depreciation of Civil Rights restricts what police officers can do during an investigative stop involving cannabis and hashish. Officers can no longer seize the cannabis nor alcohol, nor search because of smell or odor, says Beecher. He says they can only issue a written warning and provide notice to the parents or guardian. They “can only seize items that we see,” he specifies.
In addition, body worn cameras must be activated during the entire encounter, says Beecher.
Beecher thinks it is a “wise move” to opt out of licenses to sell and distribute. He suggests getting feedback from the community to determine what they want in town.
If the town were to consider allowing cultivating of cannabis, he says it needs to consider humidity, temperature and exhaust fans with filters to deal with the odor. After Beecher’s presentation, attendees could ask questions.
One person wanted to know how it is determined if someone purchases more than 6 oz. of cannabis by shopping at different retail places.
"We don’t have a system in place to track” those purchases,” says Beecher.
Someone asked if the use of cannabis leads to a higher rate of drug use, homelessness, fatal crashes and arrests.
"It’s not something we’ve tracked,” since it never had to, says Beecher, but in Colorado where cannabis has been legalized, those factors hold true, he says.