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Town Council convenes to discuss cannabis retail in community, faces pushback in public comment portion

At a special meeting of the Princeton Town Council on Tuesday, March 29, Council members discussed the prospect of approving a marijuana dispensary in town, and many residents logged on to voice their strongly-held views on the proposal.

The meeting started with an hour of presentations by stakeholders — including doctors, advocates, and politicians — both in support and opposition of the measure, before they opened the public comment portion that ran for over three hours.

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On Nov. 30, the Cannabis Task Force (CTF) — which is composed of Town Council members, local health and public safety experts, business representatives, and concerned citizens — submitted a proposal to the Town Council recommending that cannabis dispensaries be allowed to open in town. The Task Force was proposed by Councilwoman Eve Niedergang in 2021 with the goal of discussing whether the town should allow for the creation of marijuana dispensaries, how to best educate the community about marijuana policy change, and how to equitably enforce laws related to marijuana. The CTF meets the second Thursday of every month. 

The March 29 meeting had plenty of debate between members of the public, with opposing sides citing different studies and reacting to each others’ arguments. The meeting peaked at 345 attendants and ended with 188 people in attendance and 35 people waiting with their virtual hands still raised. 

With the meeting held over Zoom, the presenters at the beginning had 30 minutes per side, then Council staff read their thoughts, and public commenters had three minutes each to make their viewpoints heard.

The Council agreed to stop the meeting at 11 p.m. and continue at a later date to allow the rest of the people waiting to make public comments to share their input. The Council also received 40 to 50 email messages before the meeting, which they intend to publish before the next meeting.

The first two speakers were pro-dispensary and included Chris Goldstein, representative of the pro-marijuana advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the former mayor of Maplewood, Victor DeLuca.

“The only way to show kids how to be responsible adult cannabis consumers is to show them. They have to be able to see their parents being responsible consumers buying at a dispensary instead of a street corner somewhere,” Goldstein said. “So if that’s not available in Princeton, what message do you send to kids?”

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The presenters that opposed opening a marijuana dispensary were Dr. Matt Bellace, Dr. Aaron Weiner, and Will Jones.

“The Board of Education and members of the Board of Health have voiced some serious concerns in recent weeks, and I really think that we should listen,” Bellace said. “Pot is still going to be legal in New Jersey. That’s true no matter what we do here. But let’s address some of the risks, some of the unknowns, before we open a marijuana store, or three. Remember opting in is a long-term commitment — at least five years, I’m told, before we can do anything about it. So what is the rush?”

The meeting then transitioned to public comment. Many of the concerns expressed were about the potential effects on children.

“Just like cigarettes, vaping, and alcohol, if it is made more easily available, our children will find a way to use it and abuse it. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my son tell me he sees kids vaping all the time in the bathrooms,” Dr. Jason Rogart said. “Why expose our town to these risks? We’re better than this. It will only inevitably harm our town and our children.”

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“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let’s not pave the road to [our children’s] future with poor decision-making,” one parent said in opposition to a dispensary.

Other opponents, like Lisa Jacknow, emphasized that many people’s vote to legalize cannabis in the state should not be equated to supporting a dispensary in the town.

“Most residents voted to legalize marijuana out of concern for wrongful incarceration in the past, not to open retail stores near our schools, people’s homes, or in our walkable family areas,” Jacknow said.

Proponents like a member of the public Doug Rubin ’81, meanwhile, argued that having a legally licensed marijuana store in Princeton will ensure the safety and quality of the product, as well as decrease the illicit market for children.

“High school kids already get marijuana, they don’t need dispensaries in Princeton to get them,” Rubin said. “It’s in the community’s interest to have a vibrant, available legal market for cannabinoids. Quality is better; profits, wages, and taxes flow. Plus, by making it legal and available to adults, retailers who also sell to children and teens lose those customers and they might go out of business.”

“Cannabis is coming to town one way or another, and it is futile to try to wish it away,” Sam Bunting, a member of the public who spoke in favor of dispensaries during the meeting, wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “Trustworthy, knowledgeable local vendors who are invested in the community will ensure that cannabis buyers get a good, safe experience and can act as partners for education efforts.”

Dr. Abigail Kalmbach ’00 said she hopes to open Princeton’s first cannabis dispensary, if it is permitted, called Maude’s Potted Plant.

“I want to work with my community to find the minimally effective dose of cannabis that works best for you,” she said in the meeting. “A small, community-focused dispensary will provide more personalized care than the large dispensaries found on Route 1.”

“Our end goal is personalized wellness, and we will achieve this through rigorous research and development,” Kalmbach wrote in an email to the ‘Prince,’ in which she also emphasized the many safety measures the store will take to prevent marijuana from getting to underaged hands.

The previously proposed dispensary locations are Dinky Area South, the intersection of Harrison Street and Nassau Street, Witherspoon Street between Green Street and Valley Road, the Central Business District, and Route 206 North.

The full meeting can be viewed here. The Council intends to set a date for the next meeting soon, where they will listen to more public comments and have a Council discussion afterward.

After the meeting, the Council could choose one of three options: draft an ordinance allowing a designated number of dispensaries, hold a local referendum on dispensaries in November — which many opponents asked for — or deny the push for a dispensary.

Charlie Roth is a Staff News Writer and Assistant Data Editor for the ‘Prince’, focusing on local town coverage. He can be reached at charlieroth@princeton.edu or @imcharlieroth on Twitter or Instagram.

Lia Opperman is an Assistant News Editor who often covers University affairs, student life, and local news. She can be reached at liaopperman@princeton.edu, on Instagram @liamariaaaa, or on Twitter @oppermanlia. 

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