The Princeton Council is holding a special meeting tonight, March 29, to hear presentations about allowing cannabis retail shops in Princeton. The Zoom meeting will start at 7 p.m.
Several hundred residents have signed a petition opposing the establishment of cannabis retail shops in Princeton. Back in 2020, almost 75% of Princeton voters approved a ballot question that would legalize cannabis and the cannabis market in the state. Now some people who voted for that measure in Princeton say they weren’t signing on to having cannabis stores in Princeton. The issue has caused considerable debate in the community and led numerous residents to submit letters to the editor and editorials.
The text of the question put to the voters back in 2020: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”
An interpretative statement that accompanied the question: “This amendment would legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis.” Only persons at least 21 years of age could use cannabis products legally. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission would oversee the new adult cannabis market. This commission was created in 2019 to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program. The scope of the commission’s new authority would be detailed in laws enacted by the Legislature. All retail sales of cannabis products in the new adult cannabis market would be subject to the State’s sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”
Under the marijuana legalization law signed by the governor, municipalities have the power to control both medical and legal weed businesses in their towns though. 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.
Princeton initially opted out of allowing retail shops in order to do more work on recommendations by a local cannabis task force and develop an ordinance regulating such retail stores. Lawrence Township, already home to a medical marijuana dispensary on Route 1, quickly opted in, approving three retail licenses total, but only allows cannabis retail establishments along its regional and highway commercial zones. South Brunswick, Montgomery, and West Windsor opted out.
The Princeton Cannabis Task Force recommended 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.” The task force recommended commercial areas for the stores. Taskforce 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. Opponents of the task force’s recommendations have argued that the task force was stacked with pro-cannabis advocates, people who work in the cannabis industry, and a former member who wants to open up a cannabis retail shop in Princeton.
Dueling signs have been cropping up on lawns and public spaces in town about the issue. Opponents of cannabis retail shops in town have placed “Say no to pot shops” signs on their lawns. Signs from the group LegalAccessInPrinceton.org have begun appearing on public rights of way and a few private homes. The group is run by three men, including Chuck Latini, a Ewing resident who is the associate director at the Cannabis Advisory Group and is a partner at InFIELD Cannabis, a firm that helps people in the cannabis industry gain local support for their business. Princeton natives Marcus Bleecker of West Orange and Tamer El-Shakhs of California are also part of the group. El-Shakhs is the owner of the Malibu dispensary 99 High Tide and is a managing member of NEVCANN LLC, according to public records.
The Princeton Board of Education also weighed in on the proposal, calling on the town to not allow cannabis retail stores within 1,000 feet of schools. The local health commission is also working on a resolution to submit to the Princeton Council. Some members of the commission, who are particularly concerned about young people, want the town to hold off on allowing retail stores until proper prevention and action policies and programs are in place.
Local officials will have time to work out the details of any ordinance and other related matters. Last week, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the state regulator for the industry, tabled plans to allow existing medical operators to sell recreational marijuana in a unanimous vote. The commissioners determined that existing medical cannabis operators were not ready to expand into the recreational market. Among the concerns were access to cannabis for existing patients, supply issues, social equity, and labor agreements. The commission did approve 68 conditional licenses for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing businesses, the first recreational licenses to officially be approved by the commission.