Buzz about pot continues at the local level; Berlin is no exception

Council mulls referendum as residents express interest in dispensary ownership

Despite the delay in deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana, conversation about the substance in New Jersey continues to buzz. In a statement issued from the Office of the Attorney General last week, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has asked that municipal prosecutors statewide halt all marijuana-related offenses currently making the way through courts until Sept. 4. In the coming weeks, new guidelines about how to handle simple marijuana offenses are to be crafted.

This news comes as conversation about marijuana intensifies throughout the state. At the local level, municipalities and their residents are gearing up for what is to come in the way of legislation.

As previously reported, the Berlin Council is debating whether to offer a referendum to borough residents. The idea is to essentially get an idea as to what the public thinks about opening a medicinal marijuana dispensary in the borough, assuming legislation breaks down the barriers and allows for further medicinal sales.

The council is keeping in mind the legalization of recreational marijuana has a larger presence on the table than it did in recent months. The current state administration seems more than willing to move forward with both.

Present at the July workshop meeting was local business owner Robert Long. Long owns a local pub and sees marijuana as a potential business opportunity.

“I’m throwing my hat in the ring,” Long, referring mainly to recreational marijuana, told the council adding he feels it better to have local people operate a dispensary if laws allow for such a business to enter the area. He also noted that in his 18 years selling alcohol he has received no infractions from law enforcement.

Noting a recent trip to Colorado where he visited a dispensary for the firsthand experience, he said, “It is extremely controlled. I was surprised how controlled it was.”

He said, “A dispensary is no different than a clothes store, except for the rules and regulations that goes inside. … Anybody that goes into a dispensary is required to produce their identification and that gets swiped into a system, you are recorded as being inside that room.”

Stating he does not agree with the negative stigma associated with marijuana and doing as much as to approach borough council about potential dispensary ownership, he would not fight the council if, down the road, local government decided to keep the doors closed to pot sales.

“If you are against it, you’ll never see me push it,” he said.

Council did not openly speak on Long’s comments, but did state further discussion about the possible referendum would be discussed in closed session. At the earlier July meeting, not all council members were present and the ones who were decided to hold any further conversation about a referendum until further deliberation.

There are currently five medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the state. The newest, Curaleaf, opened in Bellmawr in May.