Princeton officials decide to hold off on sanctioning local cannabis businesses in order to study the issue further

Retail weed dispensaries appear to be in Princeton’s future, but just not in the short term.

The Princeton Council voted unanimously on Monday to introduce an ordinance prohibiting the operation of all classes of cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors, and Princeton-based cannabis delivery services. Officials said the municipality’s 23-member cannabis task force needs more time to come up with recommendations on cannabis retail business operations.

“The cannabis task force was not able to do all the research and explore all the questions that they felt needed answering in order to have an opt-in ordinance ready for tonight,” Councilwoman Eve Niedergang said at the council’s public meeting Monday night. “On tonight’s agenda is a temporary opt-out ordinance. The cannabis task force will continue its work and hopes to present a limited opt-in ordinance focused on retail cannabis sales to the council in the near future.”

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros said the task force is considering what the maximum number of cannabis businesses should be and what hours of operation should be. The task force is also looking at other operational issues like infrastructure availability, parking, mass transit, and access to technology.

Council President Leticia Fraga said the task force wants to make sure it considers social and restorative justice issues in terms of cannabis policing and enforcement.

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing the use of marijuana by adults 21 and over for recreational purposes in a statewide referendum in November of 2020.

Under the marijuana legalization law signed by the governor this year, municipalities have the power to control both medical and legal weed businesses in their towns. They can also levy fines on people who use cannabis in public, but they cannot stop people from using cannabis on private property or having it delivered to them from businesses outside of the municipality.

Towns in New Jersey have until Aug. 21 to ban such businesses or to pass ordinances that set limits for the types of businesses or number of dispensaries and zones they can operate in. Towns that do nothing will lock in a standard set of rules for cannabis businesses to operate for five years.

South Brunswick plans to opt out of allowing local cannabis businesses to operate in the township, while Lawrence plans to opt in. In Lawrence, a total of two licensed recreational cannabis retail stores will be allowed in the municipality in regional and highway commercial zones. A medical marijuana business called Zen Leaf recently opened on Route 1 in Lawrence. That business could sell cannabis to the general public also, because current licensed medical marijuana operators are exempted from the limit on retail stores. That means Lawrence could then have three cannabis dispensaries.

Municipalities across the state have rushed to roll out ordinances that would prevent cannabis businesses from opening within their borders before the August deadline. Some towns like Princeton are taking the cautious route and banning everything until they study the issue further. Some towns want to see how things work out in other cities and towns that will allow retail dispensaries.