After more than seven months of meetings, Princeton’s Cannabis Task Force (CTF) recommended that cannabis retail businesses be allowed to open in town.
The CTF is composed of Town Council members, local health and public safety experts, business representatives, and concerned citizens. The group submitted its first proposal to the Princeton Town Council on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
In the proposal, the CTF talked about possible dispensary locations, equity and racial justice, and how tax revenue should be allocated.
Town Council member and CTF Chair Eve Niedergang GS ’85 told The Daily Princetonian she hopes the group will be able to introduce an actual ordinance to the council by “late January or February.”
The CTF proposed five potential areas for a dispensary, three of which are within walking distance from the University. These include the Dinky Area South, the intersection of Harrison Street and Nassau Street, and Witherspoon Street between Green Street and Valley Road.
Other suggestions are the Central Business District and Route 206 North. The CTF also recommends these locations be no less than 200 feet from schools, which is the same restriction placed on liquor stores.
Marijuana was legalized in New Jersey in November 2020, with more than 75 percent of Princeton voters approving the measure. The CTF was created in March 2021 to determine the best approaches to bringing marijuana into the Princeton area.
Of the six options for town recreational marijuana licenses presented by New Jersey law (cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distribution, retail, and delivery), the CTF decided to focus on retail and medical licenses for now, with future recommendations planned for the rest. The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission is not accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries at this time.
“We decided to focus on retail because it best addresses the need of the Princeton community most directly,” said CTF member Milan Vaclavik in the meeting.
Equity is a top priority in the planning, according to CTF members. The group’s goal in allowing retail sales of marijuana is to positively address injustices of the War on Drugs, such as its disproportionate impact on communities of color, both in Princeton and throughout the country.
“The recommendations just released by CTF are only the beginning, and future recommendations will hopefully delve deeper into how Princeton can advance racial justice through cannabis legalization,” wrote Udi Ofer, a member of CTF in an email to the ‘Prince.’
Ofer is the Director of the American Civil Liberty Union's Justice Division and a lecturer in the School of Public and International Affairs.
“This is a racial justice issue at its core,” he added.
The CTF plans to be intentional about who it grants licenses to. Specifically, it plans to look for local owners, those from the Black and Latinx community, women, disabled veterans, and those who were found guilty for cannabis-related offenses. Many of these groups also fall under Priority Application status through the state of New Jersey.
The CTF also hopes to remove the stigma around a product that is already legalized in New Jersey and provide safe access to cannabis for adults over 21.
Another goal of the CTF is to allow on-site consumption at dispensaries. The goal of on-site consumption is to create a safe space for those who are a part of the University, in subsidized housing, or parents who don’t want to ingest in front of their children.
Additionally, the CTF hopes to ensure dispensaries are accessible to all and available by either walking or public transportation. It also would like to see dispensaries open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, so that a variety of residents have a chance to purchase it, no matter when they work.
Still, the CTF is cautious about potential negative impacts of allowing marijuana retail in Princeton.
“It is really important that the community is aware of the dangers of the use of cannabis so that people are making fully informed decisions,” Vaclavik said. “So in addition to focusing on racial equity and social justice concepts, we want to focus on those educational concepts as well as educating the community that will in particular help to reduce the abuse.”
New state laws legalizing adult recreational cannabis use also allow the delivery of cannabis, though the CTF is not presently focusing on that option.
“There will be cannabis available in town via delivery even if a dispensary is not located in town,” said Kristin Appelget, Director of Community and Regional Affairs at the University and CTF member, in an email to the ‘Prince.’
Princeton will collect two percent tax revenue from all cannabis retail sales. The town can choose whether or not to allocate all or part of the revenue to social justice causes. The CTF has also noted that it is not interested in opening dispensaries for the tax revenue.
During the public comments section, there were many arguments both for and against dispensaries coming to town, and concerns over the makeup of the CTF itself. Multiple people were concerned about the lack of Asian representation on the CTF.
“[There is] a lack of Asian American I think, particularly Chinese American, representation on the Task Force,” Neidergang said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’
“Maybe we can use this [concern] to open up lines of communication, so that there are community advocates and members of the community that we'll be sure to reach out to in the future,” she continued.
Another concern voiced by a number of residents at the meeting was safety, echoing push back to marijuana legalization expressed at previous CTF meetings.
“I moved to this town because this is a district that is safe. Now I have to rethink right? Do I need to sell my house [and move] back to my old town?” one concerned citizen said.
CTF members previously responded to this pushback by citing Princeton voters’ overwhelming support for marijuana legalization.
Other citizens, seeing marijuana as already present in town, took a different approach to the discussion.
“I think the case is that we do have marijuana in Princeton already. And the question is, are we going to try to regulate it? And how are we going to deal with the fact that people will be using it in the future?” another citizen said.
As for the impacts this proposal has on the University, CTF members think there will be few to none.
“I don't think there will be much of an impact, except that the University should really start considering updating their policies regarding marijuana since it's now legalized within the state recreational use,” said Valeria Torres-Olivares ’22, who serves as a representative of Not in Our Town on the CTF.
The University has previously said that it will not change marijuana regulations because it is required to abide by federal law since it receives federal funding, and marijuana has not been legalized at the federal level.
Princeton Town Council’s next meeting will be Monday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. over Zoom. The CTF’s next meeting will be Thursday, Dec. 16 at 1:30 p.m. over Zoom.
Lia Opperman is a news contributor for the 'Prince.' She can be reached at email@example.com or @liamariaaaa on Instagram.
Charlie Roth is a news contributor for the “Prince.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @imcharlieroth on Twitter or Instagram.