FANWOOD — After voting to prohibit all cannabis-based businesses from operating within the boundaries of the borough back in 2021, Fanwood officials said Tuesday that it may be time to reopen the debate.
“I think it’s time for a conversation about where the cannabis industry is today,” Mayor Colleen Mahr said Monday, speaking during a regular workshop meeting of the Fanwood governing body. “I think the landscape has changed.”
In the year that has passed since New Jersey first legalized recreational marijuana for use by adults over the age of 21, 28 new dispensaries have opened up across the state. Sixteen others, some of which predate the recreational legalization, still exclusively cater to medical users.
Each municipality in New Jersey was given the opportunity to opt out from allowing marijuana to be sold, grown or distributed within its borders shortly before the legalization took effect. Locally, only Scotch Plains decided to allow the new businesses to form.
According to information provided by the state, municipalities like Fanwood, Westfield and Cranford that chose to opt out back in 2021 have the option to reverse their earlier decisions at any time should they choose to do so. In Scotch Plains and other municipalities where such businesses have been allowed, however, local governments will need to wait five years before enacting any new restrictions on the industry.
And while the long-term impacts of the new business structure have yet to be fully actualized, the state reported earnings of more than $177 million in sales in the last half of 2022 alone.
According to information provided by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, municipalities do stand to share in some of those profits by creating specific transfer tax ordinances. The local rates can be up to, but may not exceed, 2 percent of the receipts from each sale by a cannabis cultivator; 2 percent of the receipts from each sale by a cannabis manufacturer; 1 percent of the receipts from each sale by a cannabis wholesaler; or 2 percent of the receipts from each sale by a cannabis retailer.
“I think a lot of towns that originally chose to opt out are starting to reconsider,” Mayor Mahr said. “I’m not saying that this is something we’re definitely going to do, but I think it’s worth having a conversation.”
The mayor went on to suggest a working community focus group that would include police, the board of education, citizens and other stakeholders to round out the discussion.
She also suggested that Borough Attorney Russ Huegel “gather up sample ordinances” from municipalities that have gone through the process to see how it is regulated in similar communities and understand the different types of licenses.
“I think it’s important that we hear from people on both sides of this,” Councilwoman Erin McElroy-Barker said. “We need to be aware of any unintended negative consequences as well as any potential benefits.”
The next meeting of the Fanwood mayor and council will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, at Borough Hall on North Martine Avenue.