The Vernon Township Council was split over how to proceed with the business of recreational marijuana since it was legalized by state referendum last November.
At the council’s June 14 meeting, Councilwoman Toni Cilli asked that the item be put on the agenda for discussion. She said doing nothing, which would result in an automatic “opt-in,” would be a bad idea.
“I’m not opposed to growers and processors,” Cilli said. “But I don’t think our town should have a distribution center.”
The township, if were to allow licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, or delivery services, can charge a 2 percent tax on five of these license classes. Wholesalers can be taxed at 1 percent.
“That could be a significant amount of money that could help reduce and/or stabilize property taxes for homeowners,” Mayor Howard Burrell said.
Burrell said he did not favor opting out of marijuana sales because he didn’t believe that would prevent anyone from obtaining or misusing it. People who want marijuana will simply buy it elsewhere and bring it back, he said.
Councilwoman Kelly Weller said marijuana is a gateway drug that could lead to other drug abuses.
“I don’t want it being sold for the very small percentage of tax money that it’s going to give us back,” she said. “I’m not really sure we should be willing to surrender our town to that.”
Councilman Andrew Pitsker said Vernon needs to have some type of control, whether on businesses or growers.
Council President Harry Shortway noted that 70 percent of Vernon voters said yes to legal recreational marijuana. He said he favored controlling it.
According to the county board of elections, 9,415 Vernon voters said yes and 4,032 said no.
Shortway floated the idea of limiting the number of licenses based on population. He suggested tying it to the laws that regulate public drinking, and make it so marijuana can’t be consumed in public.
“I believe some controls can be put in, and if someone puts an ordinance together, I’ll put it on the agenda and we’ll move it for a vote,” Shortway said.
Township residents Peg Distasi and Natalie Buccieri both spoke in favor of opting out.
“It does not go with a family-oriented town with healthy activities like hiking, biking, skiing, and snowboarding,” Buccieri said.
The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act regulates the recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and older and establishes the licensing scheme for operations, use, and possession.
Although municipalities can regulate five of the license classes, they can’t interfere with township residents having marijuana delivered to them.
The law allows municipalities to prohibit the operation of one or more of the five licenses as long as they do so by Aug. 22. Failing to opt out means that cannabis may be sold and resold in all industrial zones, with retail sales a conditional use in commercial and retail zones.
“I don’t want it being sold for the very small percentage of tax money that it’s going to give us back. I’m not really sure we should be willing to surrender our town to that.” Councilwoman Kelly Weller