Byram councilmembers unanimously support the New Jersey League of Municipalities’ sample ordinance that restricts all six categories of marijuana land use anywhere in the township.
”Just so the irony is not lost on anyone, today is April 20, often described as 4:20, an underground code for marijuana since the 1970s,” said Deputy Mayor Raymond Bonker at the meeting where the ordinance was introduced.
Bonker acknowledged that the vast majority of Byram voters favored decriminalizing marijuana in November’s statewide referendum. However, he said, decriminalization is not the same as endorsing “pot shops” on Route 206. The state has given each municipality the authority to control marijuana except for its possession and use, he said.
Bonker said he did not want Byram to become a hub of marijuana-related activity, with the increase in police work that he said goes along with it.
“Allowing pot shops along Route 206 in return for local tax revenue, would be the selling out of my hometown for 30 pieces of silver,” Bonker said. Also, he did not want children and grandchildren to grow up in a Byram with pot shops.
Councilwoman Cris Franco said she is not against marijuana usage — she was married on 4/20, she said. However, she said the council had to pass the ordinance to gain more time, since it must now go to the planning board, come back to the council, and have two readings before it is formally adopted by the August deadline. If a prospective cannabis business comes to them, she said, they can always revisit the ordinance.
Councilman Jack Gallagher said he was “not in favor of marijuana in their town at all.”
Councilman Harvey Roseff said he was not inclined to have retail marijuana establishments on Route 206. He said he’d always looked at Byram along 206 as the gateway to Sussex County and would hate to see it turn into a commercial district of pot shops and gas stations. Roseff said there are ways to do this properly and was curious to know what the public thinks
The 33 members of the public attending the meeting on Zoom were about evenly split. Some were in favor of passing the ordinance so that the township could make “judicious” decisions. Others said the council should be “listening to the voters” and pass an ordinance with more thoughtful regulation.
The township attorney, Thomas Collins, said all municipalities in New Jersey were affected by the new recreational marijuana statute. Unless a municipality adopts an ordinance by Aug. 21 to either prohibit or regulate the six categories of land uses — cannabis growing, manufacturing, distribution, packaging, retail sales, and delivery — the municipality loses its authority to adopt an ordinance affecting those uses for the next five years. However, a municipality that prohibits any or all of these categories can always adopt another ordinance to allow some in the future.
In addition, Collins said, New Jersey’s cannabis regulatory regulations, which will define what uses are allowed, are not available at this time.
Mayor Alexander Rubenstein said if the township were not under a very compressed timeline, he would want to consider property rights, and allowing people to do more or less what they please on their land. He said there was much more to discuss, but that Byram could pass the restrictive ordinance first and then agree to allow the cannabis classes that are “invisible” to the town.