If Hardyston doesn’t take action on six recreational marijuana licenses newly available in New Jersey, all six will automatically become legal in the township, its attorney told the township council on March 24.
Rob Rossmeissel from the Dorsey Semrau Law Office told council members they had the authority to regulate cannabis-related enterprises, including the number of permits, permit fees, locations, hours of operation, and the percentage of sales tax revenue to be paid the township.
Under a recently signed bill regulating the use of cannabis, municipalities can take up to 2 percent of all sales receipts.
Rossmeissel said the council has no control over the use of marijuana in the township, or the deliver of marijuana to private residences from outside the township. Otherwise, he said, “the town has the option of prohibiting the sale of cannabis for recreational use to the fullest extent available by law.”
The township may also “take a hybrid approach by permitting certain licenses, such as cultivation, but precluding others, such as retail sales,” he said.
If the township intends to opt out of any newly legal activity, it must do so by Aug. 21. If the council takes no action, it will not have another opportunity to prohibit any of the license types until 2026.
Three major reforms
Rossmeissel said Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law three bills that make up New Jersey’s cannabis reform.
The most controversial is S3454, which clarifies marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for people under 21, he said. “This bill is most likely going to be revised regarding law enforcement,” he said.
The second bill, A1987, decriminalizes marijuana and hashish possession. Rossmeissel said it deals with the expungement of records for people with prior arrests.
The third bill, A21, regulates cannabis use and possession by adults 21 and older.
Carrine Piccolo-Kaufer, Hardyston’s manager/planner, said A21 is the most important bill as it relates to the township.
A21 creates six categories of licenses: cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale sales, retail sales, distribution, and delivery. Municipalities may permit all of these licenses, prohibit all of them, or allow some of them individually, she said.
Rossmeissel said municipalities have 180 days to pass ordinances accordingly.
Rossmeissel said New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, has been in touch with law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
“Police departments will have a host of legal and enforcement considerations, including protocol for dealing with underage persons and traffic stops,” Rossmeissel said. “There were some issues where under the new legislation, a police officer would not be able to hold a driver if the only thing they found was the scent of marijuana in the car, and if the police had no other reason to suspect that the person was using marijuana, under the new law it would make it illegal for the police to hold that particular driver.”
Rossmeissel said his firm will be working with Scott Lobban, Hardyston’s chief of police, as state guidance becomes clearer.
“Another big consideration the attorneys are hearing from municipalities is how is this going to affect our employees,” he said.
Most municipalities will deal with marijuana use and alcohol use the same way, he said, in that neither will be tolerated at work. Rossmeissel said his office will help review and update the township’s personnel policy manual.
Council members want the most restrictions
The council members agreed they wanted the most restrictive options.
Councilman Santo Verrilli said two people from Colorado told him the rate of accidents, including fatalities, has increased since the legalization of marijuana in their state.
Councilman Stanley Kula said he wished there was some way to tally the extra costs associated with legalization. “The potential revenue from the sales tax is unlikely to be sufficient to address the added burden and cost on our local law enforcement and emergency personnel,” he said.
“We always talk about the quality of life, and this marijuana doesn’t enhance quality of life,” he said.
Councilman Carl Miller said the money does not tempt him. “There is a moral issue of how we feel towards our children,” he said. “For me it’s a no brainer. I agree with Councilman Verrilli.”
Miller said people who need marijuana for medical purposes will continue to have access to it.
Deputy Mayor Frank Cicerale said “sooner or later someone is going to wrap themselves around a tree or run someone over in the street as a result of this legalization. I don’t want to have that on my conscience that the marijuana was bought in our town.”
Verrilli said Hardyston “does not want to be responsible for any human being that uses marijuana to hit someone with their car, and then the families are suffering.”
Piccolo-Kaufer said Hardyston’s marijuana policies and guidelines are a work in progress. “The township’s professionals will work to draft an appropriate ordinance that meets the requirements of the legislation and the policy decision of the township council in the next few months, ahead of the August deadline,” she said.
“Sooner or later someone is going to wrap themselves around a tree or run someone over in the street as a result of this legalization. I don’t want to have that on my conscience that the marijuana was bought in our town.” Deputy Mayor Frank Cicerale