Town Council Candidates Question 5: Marijuana

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There’s been a lot of talk about marijuana in Verona in the past year. In early 2020, Verona’s Town Council began discussions with a private company about its plan to open a medical marijuana dispensary here. The discussions broke off in August. In November, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana by adults. Verona voters echoed the state trend, with 6,021 voting Yes (66.9%) and 2,980 (33.1%) voting No.

Since then, a state-appointed commission has been trying to figure out what the rules around recreational marijuana would be. So our fifth and final question to the Town Council candidates was this:

In February, Gov. Phil Murphy signed bills legalizing recreational marijuana use among adults. What should Verona do about legal marijuana?

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You can read all the answers to Question Five below, and zero in on a specific answer by clicking on a candidate’s name in the list below, which is ordered by their position on the ballot.

Cynthia Holland
Jason Hyndman
Christopher Tamburro
Jack McEvoy
Michael Nochimson

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#33FF36″ class=”” size=””]The discussion about cannabis … needs to be considered in terms of our larger environmental sustainability goals[/perfectpullquote]

Cynthia Holland:: Well, this goes back to my entire platform. It really comes down to planning, sustainable action and community resilience. Verona’s had an opportunity to plan and it’s unfortunate that even at last night’s Council meeting we’ve had to delay further discussions of it until our next Council meeting. There’s an opportunity for planning and preparation for how we would incorporate this into our municipality. The way of doing that is through really the municipal Master Plan process. That is really the guide for zoning, throughout our community, and that really needs to be re-imagined and re-examined, and the discussion about cannabis needs to be incorporated into that, but it also needs to be considered in terms of our larger environmental sustainability goals as well. One of the six classes of cannabis licenses that a municipality can license is for cultivation. There’s different ways of cultivating cannabis, and one of the things to really consider is whether or not indoor cannabis cultivation–not necessarily greenhouses but the kind of warehouse indoor cultivation, that has been seen elsewhere in densely populated suburban and urban areas–is something that’s really going to be consistent with Verona’s environmental sustainability goals because that has a huge load on the electric grid, which in turn increases carbon emissions. It also puts a lot of strain on water and wastewater utilities which in Verona are municipal systems that already are aged and really need to be upgraded, and whether or not that kind of additional strain is appropriate. So that’s why you need that planning, you need to have ordinances that are geared toward taking sustainable action, not exclusively in the environmental context but in ability to be maintained. And furthermore, looking at cannabis in terms of community resilience, because, fundamentally, the cannabis legislation was designed to right a social injustice. And I think that that should be considered as well. That’s something that people in Verona do care about, but we need to look at it overall, holistically, not in one narrow lane where we should ban it outright or we should allow it everywhere. We should be really thoughtful and considerate in our approach, and the way you get to a thoughtful conclusion is through planning. Read more Cynthia Holland answers here.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#33FF36″ class=”” size=””]At a time where we are lacking revenues from businesses, it’s very difficult to turn away from a legal and available source of revenue[/perfectpullquote]

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Jason Hyndman: This debate has been raging even before that bill was passed, with the medicinal marijuana application that was going to be right there in my neighborhood. It didn’t come about. But, as was predicted with the referendum, it’s now on the table again for recreational; we don’t even have the same control that we did last time. And it’s something that, regardless of what Verona decides to do, it’s going to be in our town because it’s a state law, there is going to be use. It’s a matter of whether or not we’re going to benefit from it. I’m very sensitive to the concerns. I have small children. I’m a parent concerned about the issues that marijuana presents, but I’m also a pragmatist, and if it’s going to be in our town, there’s funding available. It’s been categorized, at least from a medicinal standpoint as an essential service. And at a time where we are lacking revenues from businesses, it’s very difficult to turn away from a legal and available source of revenue that’s going to be happening regardless. But again, it comes down to uncertainty and the biggest factor for me is, what are the regulations of the new board going to look like? So I can’t say one thing, one way or another without knowing what the guidelines are going to be coming from the state. I did also want to mention that, you know I have spoken to [Verona Police Department] Chief Kiernan and about this, and in terms of some of the issues that people are generally concerned about increased crime or vagrancy, or things like that. Chief Kiernan is on top of it. He’s not concerned about those things in Verona. So that’s one thing that I consider when I’m thinking about this issue because our police are fantastic. They’re the ones on the front lines and they’re the ones with the expertise, and I’m going to defer to the experts. Read more Jason Hyndman answers here.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#33FF36″ class=”” size=””]One of the first things is working with the police department, municipal government and stakeholders to identify how we want to proceed with enforcement[/perfectpullquote]

Christopher Tamburro: That question is really interesting because so much of this has been dealt with legislatively and the legislature has had to go back to the table already to pass cleanup bills related to this, because the bills as they stood forbade the police from notifying parents, not only of marijuana use the first time but also of alcohol use in an underage children and that that was really concerning to me. Not just a Verona resident, but as a teacher, as somebody who works with kids every day. This is an issue. I actually spoke about this in my, we had a really good discussion in my law classes about this recently. And as students were really taking the opportunity to analyze why legislation is made and what the effects are, and to have a really spirited discussion on what this means. And a lot of our students recognize that pulling the parents out of that was a problem. But certainly, that wasn’t a universal agreement because everybody has their opinions. So this created some really interesting challenges for our police department, especially with how to interact with the public. We have an incredible community policing model in Verona, and the legislature, by engaging in activity that could sanction individual police officers for approaching somebody who might be under age if they’re in possession, could threaten that model. So, one of the first things is working with the police department, municipal government and stakeholders to identify how we want to proceed with enforcement, how we want to proceed with education. What can we do to still maintain a good quality of life in town even if the legislature is creating some environments that may make it more difficult to enforce laws related to use of marijuana in public and alcohol use in public? The problem though, the way the law is written, is that municipal governments are really constrained about passing ordinances to make enforcement more rigid. So we really have to work together as a community, and come up with strategies on how to move forward with that. Concerns I’m hearing from voters are, you know if my neighbor is outside using marijuana and this is not something that fits in with my family’s needs, how do we do that? I think that we need to have some discussions among neighbors and community meetings. Some information sessions, whatever we can do, to discuss what the impact of these laws is going to be on our neighbor relationships and how we can work as a town to mitigate any disagreements and issues that may arise. Because even though these substances are legalized, we still want to make sure that it’s not interfering with everybody, just like you can’t have a loud party where you have 100 people intoxicated next door. We want to make sure that those same values are being applied. I think that’s going to take a lot of organization among neighbors, and a lot of understanding, and I have a background in that area. I look forward to helping with that, doing community organizing, to get people on the same page about what our expectations and what our norms as a community are. Read more Christopher Tamburro answers here.

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[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#33FF36″ class=”” size=””]We need to opt out until we have a clearer picture of what exactly the distribution of licensing will be[/perfectpullquote]

Jack McEvoy: Verona has to make a decision by the middle of April, and whatever decision is made, whether it be an ordinance, it has to be fully executed before then. Some people have talked about letting the next Council take care of it. However, if we wait until July 1 it will be too late. I’m gonna go back and just explain that we have two options. We can opt in and allow recreational marijuana sales in Verona. If we opt in, we are locked in for five years. However, option number two is we can opt out. And if you opt out, you can then pass an ordinance and opt in at any time in the future, so we can wait until next year and do it. So my advice, and what I’d be pushing the rest of the Council to do, is to opt out for now because we have no idea what the legislation is going to be, I don’t think. I’ve been reading articles on it, I don’t think it’s going to be clear, written and given to us, I would say, within the next nine months to 12 months. So it’s going to be a year before we see that. I don’t think any decisions should be made before we can read through that, see exactly what it is. However, in the meantime, I truly believe, once the Planning Board starts redoing the Master Plan and the zoning ordinance–they won’t be doing the zoning ordinance, but it will come as a result of the Master Plan. I truly believe that we should then evaluate our town and make that on what areas of town we may or may not want it in. I think that it would be imperative to get that done prior and then let the next Council decide when to opt in or out, but currently my stance is we need to opt out until we have a clearer picture of what exactly the distribution of licensing will be. Read more Jack McEvoy answers here.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#33FF36″ class=”” size=””]I think you sell your soul out because it’s not the clientele we want trafficking through the town[/perfectpullquote]

Michael Nochimson: I was totally against the dispensary. I know the people who own that property very well, and we’re trying to get something in there that’s going to be very beneficial to Verona, you know. Unfortunately Rolex USA was looking to go in there, Starbucks was looking to go in there, but we couldn’t get a left turn into there and we’re working on getting a left turn onto Claremont, and we’re working with the DOT [Department of Transportation], and we’re working with the county, and Verona. We have a wonderful partnership because we just got approved 30 days ago for a light to make that left onto Claremont and from Claremont onto Pompton. So we can get a Class A business there if we get through this last hurdle. But I am against the recreational use of marijuana in a storefront in Verona, or for medicinal purposes in Verona. I don’t think it’s the right spot, it can be in someone else’s town. I’m fine with that but Verona is not the right spot. I know people like to reach for revenues, and dollars that’ll help the township but I think you sell your soul out because it’s not the clientele we want trafficking through the town. I would prefer another town to have it so, regardless of what the governor chose or approved, I’m not sure that Verona is the place for it, and I’m happy that they found other places to open. Read more Michael Nochimson answers here.

The full interviews with each candidate are here:

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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