Byram to hold June 15 public hearing on cannabis commerce ban

Byram. Mayor Alexander Rubenstein was the lone vote opposing an ordinance that would prohibit all six licenses available for cultivation, manufacturing, wholesale sales, retail sales, distribution, and delivery. “The people have spoken,” he said. “Shouldn’t we listen?”

Byram /
| 18 May 2021 | 07:08

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?”

Covid-19 vaccines available: Mayor Rubenstein said the county health department asked mayors to announce that vaccine appointments are available. The county has access to the Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine and is currently making home visits to people in need. Residents should call the health department at 973-579-0370.
Proclamations: The council unanimously passed several proclamations: Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15; Municipal Clerks’ Week, May 2-8; and Eagle Scout recognitions: Brianna Conlon, Bridget Brady, Emily Brothman, Jasmine Lutz, Katelin Hanifan, Lindsay Pugliese, and Zoe Rizzo.
C.O. Johnson Park: Township manager Joseph Sabatini said representatives from French and Parrello Associates will come to the May 18 meeting to present their final concept plan of improvements for C.O. Johnson Park, with an updated budget estimate. Sabatini received the final concept and budget estimate and posted them to the township website, Bonker commended the Department of Public Works that the fields have never looked or played better.
Cable TV outages: Mayor Rubenstein recommended that residents document their Service Electric cable TV outages and file a complaint to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), which regulates broadcast television. He said residents should continue to notify him about problems.
Grants: Sabatini said Byram closed out its 2020 statewide safety grant and received a $2,766 check, which was used to purchase backup cameras for Department of Public Works vehicles. He also received a small safety grant for his participation in an education program earlier this year.
Energy aggregation letters arrive: Councilman Bonker said the second letter from JCP&L has arrived and he strongly encourages residents to not”opt out. Residents can save 7.9 percent on their electricity bill, and they can always opt out later. The program will begin at the end of May if residents do nothing, and all of Byram will save about $250,000 every year.
Poll worker training: Councilwoman Franco said she has taken on poll worker training with Sussex County for the next election, the June 8 primary.
Miss Byram Day: Councilman Gallagher said Miss Byram Day will be held June 5, with a rain date of June 12.
Fire department: Councilman Gallagher said the the fire department meets on Thursday nights, and can always use more volunteers.
Elizabethtown Gas: Councilman Roseff said Elizabethtown Gas is going forward with efforts to bring in customers from the Lake Mohawk area, where they have already laid pipe. The gas company is looking to hear from everyone in that area interested in powering their homes with natural gas. One area not proceeding with marketing plans is the rest of northern Byram. Roseff said they are not looking to go East toward the Forest West area – the area between Lake Mohawk and Forest West – because Elizabethtown and Gas is still waiting for the Board of Public Utilities to certify the new territory.
Byram Animal Rescue Kindness Squad (BARKS): Resident Tammy Retkwa expressed her concern that negotiations broke down between BARKS and the council. She hoped negotiations would open again, and that the council will consider all of the benefits of having the shelter in town. Rubenstein said it was on the agenda because BARKS asked for an time extension before they move out.
“I will not sell out my home town for 30 pieces of silver.” Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker