HOWELL – A second public meeting was held to discuss the regulation of cannabis businesses in Howell Township, ending with no decisions being confirmed.
An initial meeting was held on September 14 where several residents voiced their concerns about the possibility of having the businesses and where they should be zoned. The second discussion took place on November 30 to further talk about the topic.
Back in November 2020, New Jersey residents voted to legalize adult use of marijuana. State officials had 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, and 34.4 percent voted against. For Howell, 63.39 percent voted to legalize it.
Despite the votes, council members voted ‘yes’ on August 21 to prohibit marijuana businesses in the town. However, they reassured residents that the ban would be temporary to give the council more time to properly zone and choose where the businesses should be in Howell.
Before the ordinance was adopted, many residents stated that the legalization was a “missed opportunity.”
At the September 14 meeting, Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick provided insight on the issue and spoke about the possible effects cannabis businesses have on law enforcement and policing of the community.
The November 30 meeting began with a presentation by Christa Riddle, the coordinator of the Howell Alliance, on “Fact-Based Considerations for Responsible Recreational Cannabis Licensing Municipal Policy.”
The Howell Alliance collaborates across the community to prevent substance abuse, underage drinking and marijuana use, alcoholism, tobacco/nicotine use, vaping and other at-risk behaviors. It also promotes physical, mental, emotional and social well-being and the reduction of substance use and mental health disorder stigmas through providing awareness, resources, and education to all community populations.
Riddle discussed that out of the about 39,500 residents of voting age in Howell, less than half, 19,934, voted to legalize marijuana.
“It is not a sweeping majority, or even a majority, especially when you consider only 37% of the total Howell population across all ages voted yes. Our elected decision-makers and hired professionals have a duty to serve and to make responsible policy for all community members, not just 50%; regardless of age or voting, they must act in the best interest in all of the public’s benefit including health, safety and well-being,” Riddle said.
Four crucial factors Riddle wanted the council members to consider when it comes to responsible cannabis licensing are: youth; community health and well-being; law enforcement; and community impact and cost-benefit.
In addition, Riddle noted that allowing cannabis businesses in town impact underage marijuana use.
After Riddle concluded her presentation, Mayor Theresa Berger questioned how the process of purchasing marijuana would work.
“If we decide to move forward and open a facility in Howell or any one of the types… we heard Andy (the police chief) and I would like to show the processes that are put in place for adults to go into those facilities,” Berger said.
“You could say, ‘Well, the adult went into a liquor store and bought a bottle for a kid,’ I get it. We can’t solve the deviants of it. We can try to set a good process and protocol. If there is a deviant out there it is just going to happen unfortunately… There are adults in the audience who have voted for it, there are adults in every one of these rooms nowadays that voted for it,” Berger added.
The mayor proceeded asking for Riddle’s thought process on the adults who have voted for it, and feel that if the majority of the state has voted for it, “why can they not be able to purchase weed in my own town.” She further stated that residents could just go one town over to purchase it.
Riddle responded explaining that she was not speaking personally, but speaking from a professional perspective. She said she presented the data, and stated it was not a majority of the community who voted for cannabis legalization.
Howell resident Ryan Marlow, a U.S. Navy veteran who spoke at previous meetings on the matter, said how Riddle’s presentation only addressed the negatives of marijuana.
“We all know there are plenty of benefits to the use of marijuana. While she (Riddle) has done a phenomenal job pointing out all the negatives, I did not hear one positive about the use of marijuana. I would love to create a presentation to tell you about the positives of marijuana and what it can do for people, but I don’t think I have to do that. I think you all know what the benefits are,” Marlow said.
He further discussed how beneficial cannabis businesses would be for the Township as they could generate revenue.
“We’ve talked about in the past how towns have made revenue off of marijuana sales. The highest amount I saw was a town in South Jersey making $160,000 a year… out of one dispensary. What can $160,000 do for our town?” Marlow said. “There are plenty of locations this town has, vacant buildings, that these places can go into, that I think we should definitely look at if we come to an agreement that we are going to allow it in the town.”
“I am tired of hearing the discussions about if we need to allow it (cannabis businesses), it is not a matter of ‘if.’ While she (Riddle) did present data that showed the voters, there was one discrepancy I found in that data. She said 50% of Howell voters voted for it, that is inaccurate. According to the Monmouth County Voters Association, from the data on their website, it was 58%,” Marlow added.
Marlow ended his discussions by urging the council members to move forward on the issue while they still have options.
The meeting ended with no conclusive decisions being made on marijuana businesses in Howell. It has not been confirmed whether a third meeting will be schedule to further talk about the topic.