The Princeton Cannabis Task Force has reached the end of a months-long process to make recommendations to town officials for cannabis retail business operations. The Princeton Council is slated to discuss the recommendations during a 7 p.m. special council meeting via Zoom tonight, Nov. 30.
The task force began researching and soliciting public feedback on retail cannabis stores in April after New Jersey voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years and older in November of 2020.
The Princeton Council voted in July to prohibit the operation of cannabis businesses in Princeton to give the town’s 23-member task force more time to develop its recommendations.
Princeton Council president Leticia Fraga said the task force is not debating whether cannabis businesses will be legal to use in Princeton — New Jersey voters have already decided that — but rather, whether retail businesses will be allowed in Princeton, and what kinds of licenses.
The recommendations for cannabis retail operations are driven by data as well as community input, Councilwoman Eve Niedergang said. She said task force members have been collecting information from other college towns that are similar to Princeton about their experiences with legalized cannabis. The task force also held a series of public meetings in September and has received further feedback from community members via email since then, she said.
Some Princeton residents have expressed concerns over the locations of cannabis retailers in recent months. Gabriel and Sheri Saltarelli started a petition in September asking that marijuana dispensaries not be allowed near schools, playgrounds, or residential neighborhoods, arguing that children and adolescents who use marijuana can suffer lasting impairments in learning, decision-making, and cognitive functioning, as well as lower academic performance. The petition has garnered 576 signatures. Some petition signers were concerned about potential locations for dispensaries. For example, the Princeton Shopping Center was one potential location where a dispensary would have been potentially allowed. The location was eliminated from recommendations after community meetings in September.
The task force is recommending that the Princeton Council vote to allow cannabis retail businesses to open in Princeton for medical and adult-use retail operations. Businesses operating other types of cannabis licenses could be considered in the future. The task force is also recommending that Princeton allow no more than three retail medical and adult-use dispensaries, with a strong preference for at least one micro-license that “has a social equity priority.”
Five commercial areas of Princeton should be zoned for cannabis retail businesses, according to the task force:
-The Dinky area/Alexander Street
– Jugtown (near the intersection of Harrison Street and Nassau Street)
– The Central Business District along Nassau Street
– Witherspoon Street North (between Green and Leigh Avenue)
○ 206 North (at Cherry Valley)
Task force members want cannabis retail businesses to be accessible by public transit, foot, or bike “in order to make cannabis accessible to those who do not own or have access to a motor vehicle.”
The task force is also recommending that cannabis retailers be subject to zoning restrictions that mirror those of alcohol retail businesses, including a requirement that retailers are located more than 200 feet from schools.
Task force members argue that allowing cannabis retail businesses in Princeton will:
- To remove the stigma around a product that is now legal in New Jersey, and which was used to unfairly target and criminalize Black and Brown communities in this state and in this community, with persistent racial disparities in arrests in the state and in Princeton.
- To provide access to a now legal product to adults 21 or older who wish to use the product for medicinal or recreational uses, and to ensure that access is provided in an equitable manner.
- To reduce underage access to cannabis by working to eliminate Princeton’s illegal cannabis market. The objective is to minimize the presence in the community of dangerous products, such as those laced with other drugs, making cannabis consumption safer for adult use and to reduce support for an underground and unregulated market.
- To positively address historical injustices of the War on Drugs, including but not limited to the disproportionate targeting of communities of color in Princeton and across the United States. This can be accomplished by directing cannabis tax revenue and impact fees toward reparative community programs, among other future recommendations beyond revenue sharing, including those related to equity in enforcement and equity in the cannabis industry.
If cannabis retailers are permitted in Princeton, the task force’s next step will be to develop educational resources for people who are interested in using cannabis or whose children are using cannabis, Niedergang said.
The petition opposing retail cannabis businesses mentions the 2 percent tax on marijuana dispensaries that would bring in additional income for the town, arguing that Princeton should be able to balance its budget without the 2% tax on marijuana dispensaries.
Niedergang said the task force sees the tax income only as a side benefit of permitting cannabis retailers in Princeton.
“One of the main reasons many of us believe there should be a dispensary in Princeton is to make a statement in opposition to the years of discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws that fell disproportionately on Black and Brown communities in Princeton and elsewhere,” Niedergang said.
Fraga said the task force has approached the issue with a social justice perspective and wants to provide licenses to women- and minority-owned businesses, particularly ones with local connections.
Niedergang said she believes that opening retail cannabis stores in Princeton will encourage other communities to follow suit.
The Princeton Council will likely draft an ordinance on allowing retail cannabis businesses after the discussion tonight, and vote on the ordinance in December or January. Public comment will be allowed during the special Zoom meeting tonight.
Reporter Krystal Knapp contributed to this story.