Township council takes first step toward opting out of cannabis sales

Members express need for more time to properly work out details.

During its first full-fledged, in person meeting at the municipal building since March 2020, Cherry Hill Township council took the first step toward formalizing its intent to opt out of marijuana sales by unanimously passing an ordinance that prohibits the operation of any class of cannabis business within town limits. 

Approved on first reading on July 12, the proposed legislation is not an outright ban. It is intended as an initial declaration — given current state guidelines and with a deadline of 40 days from the night of the meeting — to pump the brakes on the issue until more community input is received and more in depth discussion is undertaken among municipal leaders. 

Towns across the state have been given until Aug. 21 to decide whether or not to opt in and allow cannabis sales or to opt out. Those that choose the former are locked in for five years, while those who initially opt out can reverse that decision at any time within the five-year window. 

“By opting out, that does not permanently keep Cherry Hill on the sidelines,” noted Council President David Fleisher. “There is a general consensus of waiting for the (rules) to come out, as well as seeing how some of the other towns are impacted who do opt in for cannabis. So if we do move forward, we’ve gotta do it right.”

Resident Ilana Yares opened public comment on the subject by stating she had no opinion about cannabis. But she wondered about the seeming double standard that council members’ unofficial neighborhood polling on the issue revealed most were in favor of cannabis sales, yet council itself voted for prohibition.  

“I don’t want us to miss out and miss the boat on the sale and taxes that come from that,” she continued. “Although the township is not in need of money, the school district is. And a lot of money for the school district budget comes from the township.”

Fleisher responded by revealing that council had received regular communication from residents who favor local governance taking a moment to sit back and make sure all steps are taken to make the correct move. 

“We may end up with allowing cannabis, but … by the end of the year, I think we’ll have our arms around it a bunch more to be able to make a decision,” he countered. “I, for one, don’t think Cherry Hill residents or our businesses need to be guinea pigs for a new law.”

Homeowner Jamell Rosario, who had previously urged council to enact a ban,  expressed his pleasure with the ruling. 

“I have to commend you,” he opined. “That is called leadership. It is not an easy decision to make. It’s not fair what the state did to the townships, making it an August deadline for this ordinance to happen.”

Rosario rhetorically asked if council members had time to speak to any business, religious or educational leaders to assess the impact of cannabis sales on the community at large. He also expressed distaste at possible open use of marijuana in public spaces if the opt in were chosen. 

Splitting of opinion was not limited to township residents, though. Councilwoman Carole Roskoph previously revealed her personal approval of marijuana legalization but balanced that with her duty to the community.   

“It took a lot of reflection on my part to have that ‘yes’ vote,” she explained. “It was not an easy decision for me, but I came to that decision based on the fact that we are waiting for the state’s regulations to tell us what direction we should be considering.” 

Touting her belief in firm plans and definitive answers before taking action, Roskoph said she looks forward to seeing all township officials devise a plan and a timeline to ensure the best outcome. 

“We need to make sure we address all the public-safety issues that may arise,” she added. “I’m going to ask the mayor and her staff to please hold fast to a plan and to a timeline and to not let this languish.”

Second reading of the ordinance along with greater public comment, is expected to take place at council’s next public session on July 26. 

For more information on cannabis legalization from a statewide municipal perspective, visit: https://www.njlm.org/969/Cannabis-Legalization