Tonight, your Township Council will take a series of votes on whether to permit the operation of cannabis businesses in Montclair along with accompanying legislation that affects permitted locations and applies taxation.
I intend to vote to pass these laws and clear the way for cannabis commerce in our Township. To me, Montclair is the progressive capital of New Jersey and we should be leading on progressive issues, including crafting legislation even before the rest of the state does. I also believe we must honor the will of the voters. And last year, you overwhelmingly voted to legalize recreational cannabis.
Since earlier this year, Mayor Sean Spiller, Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager and myself, along of course with our Township Attorney and other officials began drafting this legislation. We then consistently benchmarked it against what other municipalities across the state are doing, socialized and invited the critical input of all of our colleagues and other professionals and refined it to arrive at where we are today, which is on the cusp of a state deadline to opt-in to this marketplace. I reviewed the Attorney General’s memorandum and guidance for law enforcement, participated in sessions with the League of Municipalities and took care to understand what I didn’t understand.
What we ended up with is a compromise bundle of legislation that allows the Township to dip its toe in the water and experiment with this new marketplace, including something that’s critical to me — understanding what the overall market in the state may dictate in terms of licensing fee potential before we open the door to too many establishments and potentially miss out on an important new revenue stream.
We also started small from a zoning perspective, only permitting retail (generally speaking) along Bloomfield Ave. downtown and on some portions of Valley Rd. and around Lackawanna Plaza with other license types permitted selectively around town.
Compromise means that none of us got the entirety of what we wanted. I like to be transparent with all of you, so I do want you to know where I differ policy from what will be included tonight:
- I favor a more liberal approach to permit cannabis retail in our other business districts as well as ultimately expanding the number of licenses across all categories. But I respect being more cautious for now, mostly to not get too far ahead of the economics. It’s very possible we will be able to charge more for licenses and we should be ready to amend this law in the weeks and months ahead to do so.
- I am against buffer zones as the state law does not require them and I believe they stigmatize what is a perfectly legal and safe commerce. I understand this is a tricky one. But having visited establishments in Colorado and Massachusetts in the last year, I’ve seen a variety of what these retail establishments look like and I’m quite comfortable with our rigorous regulation of them. I also don’t particularly like some of the undertones I hear when people talk about buffer zones.
- I feel at some point we should permit consumption on premises and we will need to repeal this portion of the law. I respect that law enforcement, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission and others need time to see what this all looks like in practice. But to me there is also a big difference between consuming a cannabis baked good, chocolate or seltzer vs. smoking a joint and we should be at the forefront of enabling the kind of retail and marketplace that can be built around a consumption on premises business model. (To be clear, I also do favor eventually permitting on-premises smoking. The regulations are incredibly strict in terms of ensuring safe, ventilated environments and I trust adults to make responsible decisions themselves, just like we do with bars.)
This is the push and pull of democracy. I have to vote for a few things that I don’t support to get the bigger thing that I believe in done. As I said in the beginning, no one is getting everything or even close to everything they want. But I believe after tonight, we’ll be enabling the possibility for cannabis wholesale, cultivation, distribution, retail and delivery services in Montclair and we’re doing so in a way that also gives minority and women-owned businesses an advantage in the application process. I believe that is in line with who we are. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission will come out with their own licensing requirements, which I believe will be very much in line with our own and we will continue to reserve the right to amend this law at any time as we gain insights over time.
Thank you for reading.