By FRED T. ROSSI
For The Leader/Times
SCOTCH PLAINS — The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued rules and regulations last week governing marijuana sales and distribution, and it is expected that licenses to operate retail and other types of outlets can soon be applied for and then issued.
Last November, voters in New Jersey — including Scotch Plains — overwhelmingly approved legalizing recreational use of marijuana, 11 years after the legalization of sales for medical use.
Municipalities had until last week to formally decide whether or not to allow marijuana sales, and many neighboring towns, including Fanwood, Westfield, Garwood, Cranford, Clark and Summit, have opted out. But the township council was supportive of last year’s referendum, and in May approved an ordinance setting out where cannabis products can be sold and manufactured in Scotch Plains.
“We’re looking for any opportunity to increase [tax] ratables in town,” said Mayor Joshua Losardo, who noted that township services “are more and more expensive every year.” He told The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times that he and his immediate predecessors have strived to keep municipal property taxes as flat as possible, but that those efforts are increasingly difficult. Besides the coming downtown redevelopment and the sale of public properties, the mayor also sees cannabis sales as another new source of revenue for the township, which will collect 2 percent of the proceeds from retail cannabis sales.
The mayor said he had been told that a retail establishment of less than 2,000 square feet has the potential to generate $8 million in business, which would translate into about $160,000 annually for township coffers. “That could lead to more improved roads, improved recycling collection, hiring another DPW worker,” the mayor said.
He said he looks at the new industry, “as an opportunity for Scotch Plains to be the town around here that attracts customers” from towns that are not allowing marijuana sales. The mayor said the township has been contacted by interested parties that would then have to apply to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission for an operating license. The local government has no say in anything other than opting in or out and deciding where marijuana-oriented businesses can and can not be located. It also is possible that the township could write a general letter of support for any applicants seeking a license.
The township ordinance limits retail marijuana establishments — where customers who must be at least 21 years old can purchase marijuana — to properties along Route 22. On-site consumption, akin to what is found in Amsterdam, also will be permitted at shops along Route 22 as long as it is done in an indoor area of the facility that is separate from where the marijuana is sold or in an exterior structure on the same property as the retailer.
Besides retailers, five other classes of licensed businesses were established by the ordinance, including one for facilities involved in growing and cultivating cannabis; one for the manufacturing and packaging of cannabis items; one for marijuana wholesalers; one for businesses involved in transporting cannabis plants in bulk from one licensed grower to another; and one for businesses providing delivery services from licensed retailers to consumers. These five types of operations would be permitted along Route 22 as well as in the M-1 and M-2 light-manufacturing zones located on Jerusalem Road and Plainfield Avenue near the Scotch Hills Country Club and on Lamberts Mill Road near the health club.
Mayor Losardo swatted down rumors that licenses to operate in Scotch Plains have already been issued, pointing out that the state’s regulations are just being issued and that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, not the township government, decides who gets licenses. In any case, the mayor said — pun intended or not — that he wants to “get it rolling.”
While the purchase and consumption of marijuana may be legal, the police department will treat it the same way as it does alcohol. Police Chief Ted Conley said his biggest concern is people driving under the influence, especially those who are inexperienced with the effects of marijuana. He cited reports that automobile accidents have gone up in states where marijuana is legal. “We’re going to treat it like alcohol,” he told The Leader and The Times, with the police department’s message being, “Don’t get high and drive.”
Chief Conley said he also is concerned about kids experimenting with marijuana for the first time, noting that, in general, it is much stronger than it was 20 or 30 years ago. He also said he was looking for more information about whether retailers will provide security officers at their establishments, especially given the likelihood that those businesses will be all-cash and will not accept credit cards as payment. Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level and most banks need to comply with federal law and regulations.
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