In a 4-1 vote, the Byram council introduced an ordinance prohibiting all cannabis business in the township.
Mayor Alexander Rubenstein was the lone vote against the ordinance, which will be put before the public in a June 15 hearing.
“Who are we to dictate to a property owner what they can or cannot use their property for on their owned land, with reasonable conditions?” Rubenstein asked.
Before the vote, Rubenstein submitted a motion to table the introduction of the ordinance. He recommended engaging the public and meeting with the planning board to consider the topic further. The motion died.
“I will not sell out my home town for 30 pieces of silver,” said Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker.
The township has until Aug. 21 to decide whether to opt out of six licenses available for cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale sales, retail sales, distribution, and delivery.
Bonker said New Jersey should not be requiring municipalities to pass an ordinance before it publishes its marijuana rules on Aug. 23. Without those rules, he said, Byram would have a financial interest in promoting the increased sale of marijuana.
He gave a list of other reasons: marijuana is illegal at the federal level, 98 percent of Byram is off-limits to development, the township doesn’t need to “aim low” by allowing “pot shops.” Byram promotes healthy lifestyles, he said, and bans smoking in all public places. The American Lung Association says smoking marijuana damages lungs and may lead to chronic bronchitis, he said.
Bonker said that saying no now still permits Byram to retain all options going forward.
Councilwoman Cris Franco said she favors the ordinance because of the need to take action before Aug. 22 and to control businesses moving into town in the future. Whether to use recreational marijuana is a personal decision, she said, but she did not think people wanted dispensaries all around the town. But she said people did not want others to go jail for consumption or possession of marijuana.
Councilman Jack Gallagher said he supports the ordinance because the rules and regulations governing cannabis commerce are still unknown, and that they can take another look at the matter later.
Councilman Harvey Roseff said the statewide vote last November was a decriminalization vote, and he supported it in that context. He agreed that Byram needs to protect its future options.
Rubenstein said he favors allowing retail shops with reasonable conditions regarding the appearance of storefronts and the number allowed. The township could craft a zoning code in a few meetings with the planning board and public, he said.
He noted that 79 percent of eligible voters in Byram participated in the last election, and 68 percent voted to legalize marijuana.
“The people have spoken,” he said. “Shouldn’t we listen?”
“I will not sell out my home town for 30 pieces of silver.” Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker