Jul 12, 2021
BEDMINSTER TWP. – After devoting far more time to the issue than its Somerset Hills neighbors, the Township Committee became the last of the five governing bodies to adopt a ban on marijuana-related businesses on Tuesday, July 6.
Some towns prohibited marijuana uses “within a couple weeks,” Mayor Larry Jacobs said moments after the vote. He said that in contrast, the committee brought in experts, attended talks and reviewed the issue with township boards and local residents.
“We took a little bit more of a deliberate approach than some other towns,” Jacobs added. “It may have irritated some folks that we didn’t move instinctively or reflexively. But I think that what we did was appropriate. We wanted to give it consideration and we wanted to hear from others.”
Towns across New Jersey have been reacting to state legislation, signed into law on Feb. 22, that legalized recreational marijuana while giving towns until Aug. 21 to “opt out” of allowing marijuana businesses within their borders.
If a town does not “opt out” by Aug. 21, it would be required to permit such businesses for the next five years.
Municipalities have the right to prohibit the cultivation, manufacture, wholesaling, retailing and distribution of marijuana, as well as marijuana shops. The one thing they can’t stop is the delivery of out-of-town marijuana to local homes.
In the other Somerset Hills towns, elected officials decided early on that marijuana businesses were not in the interests of their community.
The Bernardsville Borough Council and the Far Hills Borough Council each adopted a ban on April 12, followed by the Bernards Township Committee on May 25 and the Peapack-Gladstone Borough Council on June 15.
The public hearing in Far Hills drew comments from five out-of-town residents who opposed the ban. But none of the governing bodies heard opposition from their own constituents. The Bedminster Township Committee probed the issue more deeply. In its meetings between April and June, its discussions of the marijuana law added up to more than four hours, including a two-hour presentation by the township’s legal counsel.
As the committee prepared to hold its public hearing, Jacobs said the state has formed a commission that will devise regulations for how marijuana businesses will operate. But he said those regulations are unlikely to be in place before the Aug. 21 opt-out deadline.”So to some extent you’ll be flying blind,” the mayor remarked. He said that in seeking community feedback, “there does seem to be a consensus that until the regulations are in place, it’s appropriate for Bedminster to opt out.”
Other committee members agreed.
“We’d be irresponsible to permit something that we have no idea what we’re permitting,” said Committeeman Doug Stevinson. He called the ban “a no-brainer.”
During the public hearing, Paige Nielsen, youth engagement coordinator for Bernardsville based Community in Crisis, a non-profit group, introduced two Ridge High students from Bernards Township.
Student Jabeen Sheikh said allowing marijuana businesses would give the false impression that the drug is not detrimental. He said it increases the risk for depression, suicide and even psychosis.
Student Maura Medenilla said youths use fake identification to illegally purchase alcohol and could be expected to do likewise at marijuana shops.
The committee went on to adopt the ban in a 4-0 vote, with Committeewoman Gina Fernandez absent.
The committee also voted to re-introduce an ordinance that would ban marijuana smoking, vaping or aerosolizing at public places like parks, shopping centers and parking lots.
A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, July 19.
“Our focus here is not some moral statement or judgment,” Jacobs said. “This is about the impact on third parties – the smell, second-hand smoke.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Bernardsville News.
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