Mayor’s Message: Cannabis

In this week's Mayor's Message, Mayor Louis Manzo discusses the township's stance on cannabis.

The question of marijuana (cannabis) legalization inNew Jersey has been a hot topic this past year.

There has been debate in the legislature, as they grapple with the details of regulation and taxation. Consensus has been elusive and recently, an expected vote was delayed until May of this year. Even if there are further delays, it is believed this legalization will be approved at some point. The recreational use debate aside, the medicinal use of cannabis has been the law in New Jersey since January of 2010.

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I write this week to provide clarification on Harrison Township’s position on the topic. We’ve known that individual towns could be confronted with suitors interested in developing a land parcel for a cannabis-connected project. That gained a sharper focus last year when the governor announced an expansion of the existing medicinal program. Applications were accepted in August for six new Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs), to add to the six already in operation throughout the state.

Our legal advisors explained that since cannabis was totally illegal in New Jersey prior to 2010, local zoning ordinances did not include any language pertaining to it. Therefore, the current law that permits medicinal use meant an applicant could come before our Joint Land Use Board and seek approval to build an ATC in any zone where a medical office building was permitted, and we had no legal authority to deny that application.

This exposure was concerning and prompted us to learn as much as we could about the topic to determine how we would consider any such facility here. We wanted to have as much direct knowledge as possible before bringing the topic to our leadership team to determine what action, if any, was appropriate for Harrison Township.

Last summer, the research began, which included a meeting with State Sen. Nick Scutari, who is the primary sponsor and architect of the cannabis legislation here. He put me in touch with the management team of one of the six operating ATCs, so I could get their perspective and gain a direct understanding of how medicinal cannabis is delivered under the current law. The hour spent with Scutari was invaluable. My tour of the Garden State Dispensary in Edison included a briefing with their operation director, scientific team and growers was educational.

Our objective was to have legal controls in place when considering a cannabis-related facility in our community.

Based on the information garnered in our research, we acted to amend our master plan last November. The consensus was that we supported the current law allowing the medicinal use, but we did not feel a recreational use facility (when/if that legislation moves forward) was appropriate at this time. Therefore, through zoning adjustments, Harrison Township would allow the consideration of an application for a medicinal treatment center, but limited only to the existing Tomlin Station Commerce Center site. Our zoning also prohibits any recreational-use stores or distribution sites at this time.

Hopefully, this provides you with an understanding of what is and isn’t possible in Harrison Township when it comes to cannabis.


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