Gloucester Township Council approves cannabis regulation ordinance

Public hearing prompts discussion on community impact of cannabis sales

The Gloucester Township Council approved the ordinance that establishes regulations for cannabis businesses at its Aug. 9 meeting, effectively allowing them in the township.

This decision was praised by some residents and mourned by others.

As previously reported by The Sun, the ordinance outlines what cannabis businesses can  operate and where, how far they must be from schools, parks and day-care facilities and other issues. The township had until Aug. 21 to make a decision on whether or not to allow marijuana and come up with its own set of regulations.

If council had not passed the ordinance, there would not have been enough time to make changes before the deadline, and the township would have been opted in to follow the state’s regulations for five years.

Despite the ordinance’s approval, public hearing on the measure did reveal complex reactions from the community about allowing marijuana. Resident Leslie Soto-Munoz expressed her concern over the potential drug abuse and the negative impact drugs have on a community.

“This profession (drug dealing), they prey on other people’s weaknesses, on other people’s  problems,” she said. “These people come to them to buy the substance to make them feel a certain way, to take the pain away, to take the agony away. And then they have to come back and get more of it to dull the pain. And these professionals became very rich … and those neighborhoods are trashed.

“ … Just because we are able to collect taxes and benefit monetarily does not make it okay to damage our communities and our people,” Soto-Munoz added.

Though several council members —  including Dan Hutchinson, Michael Mignone and Andrea Stubbs — voiced their personal dislike for and disinterest in marijuana, Hutchinson made the point that the majority of the town had voted to allow it in November.

“Twenty two thousand votes were cast in favor, 7,000 were cast against,” he noted. “We’re a representative democracy in this country, in this town. How does a legislator ignore the will of the people when it’s that resounding in favor of allowing it? How does this board disregard the vote of the citizens of the town?”

In response to resident Toni Enoch’s concerns that marijuana sales would result in lawlessness,   Police Chief David Harkins said, “You can’t just come in and open a business without a license already approved by the state.”

Hugh Giordano, a resident and representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union that represents cannabis workers, voiced his support of the decision to allow cannabis and suggested that council consider using Bayonne’s merit based system to vet potential sellers. The system looks at a business’ past practice when it comes to labor, environmental  and local ownership standards.

“It’s upsetting to hear when people think about cannabis and overdosing,” Giordano remarked . “There’s been no cases of an overdose from cannabis. The real gateway is the drug dealer. “These are controlled institutions, not someone under 21,” he added. “We don’t look at and despise liquor workers. We’re not thinking they’re going to give it to children … Why would we think that about these workers, and why would we put that kind of stigma on the workers, patients and consumers?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the possibility of a fatal marijuana overdose is unlikely, but the possibility of addiction is about 1 in 10 people.

Resident Elizabeth Dugan offered her perspective as someone who has been through alcohol rehab.  She does not believe that adding dispensaries would significantly increase the use of cannabis, because people already using the substance will likely continue to go where they feel comfortable buying it.

“It is not up to anyone else to alleviate or do anything about other people’s addiction or abuse,” she said. “It is up to the individual user or person who does not use anymore to determine whether or not they are going to take the drug.”

When it came time to vote, all council members, except for Council President Orlando Mercado,  who was absent, approved the ordinance.

The full meeting is available to watch on the Gloucester Township YouTube channel, and at www.glotwp.com. To learn more about how cannabis can affect health, visit https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/health-effects.html.

The next in person council meeting is set for Monday, Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m.