Cannabis legalization is not a green light for commercialization

Dear Editor:

When I voted for marijuana legalization, it felt good to make a virtuous decision. I was confident that cannabis regulation and other kinks would get ironed out.  Last year, cannabis became legal in NJ and municipalities began deciding whether to opt-in/out of hosting recreational dispensaries.  A couple of months ago I learned that the Princeton Cannabis Task Force (CTF) was recommending to open 3 recreational retail cannabis dispensaries in town. Three dispensaries seemed like a lot for a small town. Then the Princeton Board of Education publicly voiced practical concerns, which the CTF elected to dismiss. This turn of events seized my attention, and here’s what I learned through my research:

Opt-in rate: Legalization is not a green light for commercialization, thus towns were given the option to opt-in/out. Although 67% of NJ voted to legalize marijuana, 71% of NJ towns opted out of hosting retail cannabis dispensaries.  Many of our neighbors opted out of retail cannabis dispensaries, including: Montgomery, West Windsor, Plainsboro, Robbinsville, Hopewell. Some supporters explain the low opt-in rate as temporary caution, being that cannabis is so new in NJ.  However, 67% of California towns, over 75% in Michigan, and 48% of Colorado towns opted out, and these states are years ahead of NJ.  So, what are some lessons we can learn from markets that are way ahead of NJ?    

Price of Hosting Dispensaries: The NJ State League of Municipalities (NJLM) found that 3% tax is not enough to recoup municipal costs.  Nevertheless, NJ law allows municipalities like Princeton to charge up to 2%.  Unlike Massachusetts, NJ law does not make room for municipalities to charge dispensaries “impact fees”.  Interestingly, most other states charge significantly higher tax rates and have very different tax structures. Also, unlike NJ, other states spend cannabis tax money on schools, research, law enforcement, environment cleanup, drug prevention, etc. To complicate matters, CTF intends to allocate the entire 2% toward social justice causes (in addition to the state’s contributions), and does not commit to investing these monies locally in our community.  The CTF is missing financial forecasting to determine the impact to tax payers or benefits to the Princeton community, other than the creation of a few dispensary jobs.  

Legal Liability: municipalities with retail cannabis shops have seen a flood of litigation for a host of reasons. Just google it.  Litigation is not cheap and will come out of the municipal budget.  This cost is above and beyond the 3% of hosting dispensaries.

Parking and Sustainability: one of the stated aspirations of the CTF, is for Princeton to be a location that caters to a variety of people and tastes.  Putting aside why Princeton should cater to this specific demand when there are more attractive alternatives, a cannabis retail shop will undeniably draw more visitors seeking the products.  As observed in other states, traffic and parking challenges abound. Princeton already has parking challenges, where will so many new visitors park and is the increased car pollution good for Princeton, a town that prides itself on being green? While we’re on the topic of sustainability, did you know that marijuana is the most energy intensive crop in the U.S.? Promoting its use in town would increase usage, thereby boosting demand and increasing our carbon footprint. Is Princeton for sustainability or for cannabis retail?

Potency Regulation: THC content of the marijuana in the 80’s was less than 2%. Today, it is normal to find marijuana with a THC content of over 20%. There are no clear guidelines or regulations from government officials.  “The more potent a drug is, the stronger the possibility of addiction and the more likely the person will continue to purchase and use the product.” [“The Problem with the Current High Potency THC Marijuana from the Perspective of an Addiction Psychiatrist”, NCBI, Nov-Dec 2018].  NJ law does require cannabis packaging to be labeled so that THC concentration will be visible however, there are still no safety guidelines. Guidelines are very important because, according to the Yale Medicine Cannabis/Marijuana Use Disorder homepage: 10% of people who begin smoking cannabis will become addicted, and 30% of current users meet the criteria for addiction.  Also, the site points out that people in mid-to-late adolescence are most likely to begin using cannabis. Do we want to make addiction problems worse in our town by making marijuana even more accessible in our community? Princeton has 6 public schools, many private schools and a large university student body under 21 yrs. of age.  Curiously, Princeton’s CTF report makes no mention of how the underage will be protected.  

Rita Rafalovsky


  1. Well said, Ms Rafalovsky. Our elected officials have grossly misunderstood the public support for ending prohibition and have taken it as a green light for rampant commercialization. Thanks for the nuanced assessment. I’m sorry our officials don’t seem to have assembled an advisory board capable of doing the same.

  2. I voted for decriminalization not mass commercialization targeting under 25 year olds.


    What do these have in common? BIG $$$$$$$ and BIG ADDICTION to keep the money flowing. and all were supposedly “not harmful or addicting.”

    All under an INSIDIOUS social justice wrapper to keep you from questioning the choice and to call you racist: to get you, your friends and family highly addicted.

    Pushing drugs into any community is abhorrent and pushing drugs into our most vulnerable and most likely to become addicted is pure GREED.

    Don’t fall for this trap as the cannabis lobby has inserted several members onto the Princeton Cannabis Task Force to dupe the council and mayor. Notice how they actively write letters. Not fair and unbiased as the task force is supposed to be. The UNELECTED CTF is not representative of Princeton voters.

    Be wise and tell council and mayor at the town meeting on 3/29 at 7 pm that you are against this slimey public health downward spiral brought to you by the CTF. Disgusting Money Grab.

  3. Also agree.
    We voted to allow compassionate care use of cannabis. We did not vote to have it sold next to our homes and schools via a dispensary. New addicts will increase the underground market. Just ask the Weedman in Trenton.
    The smell alone will keep me out of downtown.
    A disaster in the making for our loved town.

  4. There are many activities which are not illegal but problematic.

    Tobacco smoking, compulsive gambling, binge drinking, spam mailings, corporate political contributions, and the list goes on and on.

    For me, marijuana smoking is somewhere is this category. I am fine with the legalization, but that does not mean that it is has to be promoted everywhere.

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