HOWELL – The township has taken its first steps to banning marijuana businesses from operating in the town.
At the most recent Township Council meeting, the members introduced an ordinance that would prohibit “the operation of any class of cannabis business.”
Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “yes” on a motion to introduce the ordinance. Mayor Theresa Berger was absent from the meeting.
Back in November, New Jersey residents voted to legalize adult use of marijuana. State officials have given municipalities until August 21 to pass ordinances to prohibit or permit marijuana businesses.
Within Monmouth County, 65.6 percent of residents voted to approve legalization of marijuana, 34.4 percent voted against. For Howell, 63.39 percent voted to legalize it.
The ordinance further states that this does not apply to the delivery of cannabis items and related supplies being delivered into Howell by a cannabis delivery service located outside the township.
During the public comment section of the meeting, resident Marc Parisi proposed to the council that the decision should be left to residents.
“I have a feeling this is going to become politicized and could possibly be used in the election next year and I really don’t want to see that happen. My suggestion would be that the council would adopt an ordinance to put a question on the November ballot and allow residents to vote on whether they want marijuana-related businesses,” Parisi said. “Council can ban them for now, but put a question on the ballot and let the residents decide whether they want this or not. It would be a way of de-politicizing it.”
Bonevich said how they are well aware that 70 percent of Howell residents voted for the sale of marijuana and explained that this ordinance would allow them to have control over where cannabis businesses are placed, not necessarily banning the sale completely.
“We always complain that Trenton says this, the state says that. The state law says we have 180 days to control. If we only want retail or distribution on Route 9, this is our chance to do it. If we don’t do it within 180 days, we could have dispensaries all over the place, next to residential places where we don’t want it. If these businesses go in places we don’t like, then we are stuck with it, it gets grandfathered in.” Bonevich said. “This is not against, or banning, this is just giving us time to zone and this is where it should go and this is where it shouldn’t go. This ordinance is giving us home rule and giving Howell control and that’s all it is.”
“If we do not move to ban it and we allow all six classes of cannabis establishments to be legal in Howell, we don’t have another opportunity to opt out of that law for five years. After that five-year period, even if we do opt out, everything will be grandfathered in. So, whether we like it or not at that point, we have it,” Township Attorney Joe Clark said “This way we get to ban it for now and we can revisit it when there are more rules and regulations in place, when we see how other towns are faring with their tax revenue.”
A public hearing to discuss the proposed ordinance is scheduled for June 15.