By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair could have up to two recreational marijuana retailers and five other cannabis-related businesses under a set of bylaws that city council introduced on Tuesday night.
Council members voted 4-2, with 1 abstention, to introduce three related ordinances. If the council does eventually pass the ordinances, with a final vote expected on August 10, it will also limit where recreational marijuana businesses can be located in town.
They would be allowed to be closer to schools than the 1,000-foot buffer zone traditionally established for so-called “drug-free zones” – the state no longer considers marijuana a dangerous controlled substance. The township would let businesses operate from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week and collect sales taxes.
Cities face an August 21 deadline to ban or allow sales of recreational marijuana and set regulations outlining where and when they can operate, and how many establishments can be licensed.
If Montclair does not act by then, said township lawyer Ira Karasick, cannabis businesses and services could automatically be considered permitted uses in commercial areas, and the township would not be able to ‘Prohibit permit holders from moving to cities for five years, he said. mentionned.
Under Montclair’s orders, the township would be able to issue two cannabis retailer licenses and one of each for a cannabis delivery service, a cannabis wholesaler, a cannabis distributor, a cannabis manufacturer and a cultivator. cannabis. For the moment, Montclair would not allow consumption on the spot. Karasick said the board could increase those numbers in the future, but could not reduce the number of licenses.
Mayor Sean Spiller, who this year served on a committee tasked with working on cannabis regulation with City Councilor Peter Yacobellis and City Councilor Robin Schlager, said Montclair was starting conservatively by setting the number of licenses allowed and where businesses can be located.
“We’ll let the market dictate where this goes,” Spiller said.
On August 22, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission will release its rules and regulations for the legal recreational marijuana industry. City Councilor David Cummings suggested Montclair step down for now, then step down on direction. He and Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock voted against the introduction of the three ordinances.
City Councilor Bob Russo, who has said he supports legalizing recreational marijuana use, abstained, hoping the introductory vote would be postponed until the next council meeting on July 20, allowing thus more conversation. Karasick said suggested amendments could still be made before the July 20 meeting.
Companies seeking licenses in Montclair should first obtain a license from the state commission, which will begin accepting applications on August 22.
Marijuana dispensaries are nothing new to Montclair. In December 2012, Montclair was the first city in the state to host an alternative treatment center – then Greenleaf Compassion Center, now Ascend – in which cannabis could only be sold for medical purposes. However, the township has never created ordinances for the zoning of establishments or the collection of sales taxes.
Chris Melillo, Director of Revenue at Ascend told the Montclair local that the company is currently focused on meeting the needs of patients and will continue to put patients and the community first.
Another company, Lightshade Labs, asked the township in 2019 to open an alternative care center at 369-373 Bloomfield Ave. In 2019, city planner Janice Talley wrote a letter to Lightshade, saying that at the time state law prohibited being less than 1,000 feet. of a school – Fusion Academy. However, Lightshade is expected to return to the township zoning board on September 22.
Lightshade and about 150 other potential medical marijuana dispensaries have also had their applications blocked for more than a year in a dispute with the state’s Department of Health, but an appeals court this year ruled that these requests could go ahead.
Spiller said Montclair has had a positive experience with the existing medical marijuana center.
Officials in dozens of municipalities, including Nutley and Livingston in Essex County, have chosen to ban recreational marijuana establishments in their communities, many saying they want to test the waters first. Others, like Montclair and Bloomfield, are embracing a new market that they believe will translate into more tax revenue and job opportunities.
“Right now, our main revenues are property taxes and parking revenues. A local tax on marijuana will generate more revenue, ”Yacobellis told the Montclair local ahead of the meeting.
He said he believed the three Montclair orders “represent a measured and cautious approach to a whole new market, in a way that respects the will of the voters.”
Voters in Essex County overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana from 229,144 to 89,315 when the state put the issue to a referendum in 2020. In Montclair voters by a 4-1 margin voted to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey, Yacobellis said.
In the past, federal and state drug-free school zones made the distribution, distribution or possession of a controlled dangerous substance within 300 meters of a school a third-degree felony, but the recently adopted cannabis changed the state’s definition of “controlled dangerous substance” to prevent the legalization of cannabis. This change means that a licensed cannabis establishment could operate within the 1,000-foot drug-free school zone. But federal law continues to identify all forms of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Montclair’s proposed zoning for cannabis companies would prohibit them from being within 250 feet of a school or daycare. Council members reviewed a map showing 37 school locations and possible 250 to 500 foot buffer zones before finally moving forward with the 250 foot restriction.
Businesses would be permitted in the central shopping area on Bloomfield Avenue, the general and light manufacturing shopping area, excluding Walnut Street, and the neighborhood shopping area, on Valley Road between Walnut Street and James Street.
Councilor Lori Price Abrams asked why the zoning couldn’t at least be extended to side streets along Bloomfield Avenue.
The zoning council, which will then meet on July 21, has yet to approve the zoning conditions, Karasick said.
It remains to be seen how much tax revenue Montclair would collect, but with more licensed dispensaries in town and with current cannabis prices set at $ 50 to $ 60 for an eighth of an ounce, the township would have another source of revenue.
State law allows municipalities that host marijuana to levy 1% or 2% transaction taxes in addition to the state’s 6.625% sales tax. Montclair would levy a tax on receipts from cannabis sales or transfers of 2% for cannabis growers, manufacturers and retailers, and 1% for wholesalers.
Licenses would be granted for three years. The application fee would be $ 5,000, with annual renewals of $ 2,500, for delivery companies and retailers. All other commercial cannabis applications would cost $ 10,000, with renewals of $ 5,000.
State law requires all municipalities to allow delivery of cannabis, even if they refuse to allow businesses in their city. Montclair would allow deliveries between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., any day of the week.
Retailers can be open to the public at the same times.
In the case of multiple applicants for the limited number of licenses, city council would assess all applicants and issue an award notice.
It would take into account factors including the company’s ties to the community and whether at least one shareholder has lived or operated a business in Montclair for at least five years. The board would also consider the company’s commitment to providing benefits to the community and its demonstrated commitment to diversity in its ownership and hiring practices.