Central Jersey.com

Your Turn: The Cranbury Township Committee must opt out of cannabis licenses

The Cranbury Township Committee must enact an ordinance opting out of all licenses permitted under the new cannabis law. Failure to do so would be a complete dereliction of its duties, and it would fly in the face of the overwhelming number of Cranbury residents (and voters) who have voiced their support of an ordinance at committee meetings, as well as through letters and emails to committee members.

Several members of our Township Committee, including Mayor Michael Ferrante, have represented that they are taking time to understand the scope of the new New Jersey marijuana law and to consider the long-term consequences their actions may have for Cranbury. To be sure, we want the committee to make informed decisions. But New Jersey’s ill-conceived recreational marijuana law exists within an undefined framework.

All we know is that failure to opt out of these licenses by Aug. 21 requires us to allow the cultivation, manufacture, wholesaling, distribution, and/or (and perhaps the most concerning) retail sale of recreational drugs in our town for five years. So, in truth, there’s not much for the committee to consider.

Rather, it appears to many Cranbury voters that some members of the committee prefer to proceed with a kind of willful blindness. Indeed, some committee members voted against hearing from the Municipal Alliance, an organization that researched this issue extensively. The committee also has not requested that Cranbury Police Chief Michael Owens speak on the issue, opting instead to say that they didn’t want to “put him on the spot.”

Despite these recent troubling developments, common sense tells us that permitting any recreational drug licenses in Cranbury will forever change the character of our town. Many families come to Cranbury for its bucolic atmosphere, safe streets, thriving school system, and strong family values. Permitting the cultivation and sale of recreational drugs cuts against all of that and puts our children at grave risk. We’ve all seen how drug use can totally derail the lives of young people and put them on a path to personal and family destruction.

Of course, if the Municipal Alliance was permitted to deliver its full presentation, committee members would have learned that several studies and reports bear out this common sense expectation. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that since Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. legalized marijuana, use of marijuana among 12-17-year-olds in the past month rose above the national average. More alarming, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment disclosed that toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased, significantly outpacing that of alcohol and opioids.

And most relevant to the decision the committee must make at this time, in a recent study tracking public health impacts of marijuana legalization, marijuana dispensary density has been linked to more use among youth, with 16% of 11th graders reporting marijuana use in areas with less dispensary density compared to 23% of the same age group reporting use in more retail dense areas.

All of this means that permitting the recreational sale of marijuana will put more drugs into the hands of our kids. So, it’s astounding that members of the Township Committee are even considering allowing any of these licenses in Cranbury. The thought of having a recreational cannabis dispensary with drug-laced treats that look like candy on display in a Main Street storefront, in Cranbury Commons, or anywhere else in our town should be as reprehensible to the committee as it is to a majority of the families that live here.

The Township Committee has a moral responsibility to protect our kids from drugs, and that necessarily includes taking actions that will not further normalize recreational marijuana drug use.

If these deleterious effects to our children aren’t convincing enough to opt out entirely, consider the effect of allowing any of these licenses on crime, the environment, current businesses in town, potential tax revenue and property values.

It should be no surprise that crime rates have increased in states and jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized. A recent study published in Regional Science and Urban Economics found an increase in violent crime in the areas adjacent to businesses that sell recreational drugs. Another study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that the density of marijuana dispensaries was linked to increased property crimes in nearby areas. And, in addition to these increases in crime, the Boulder Police Department in Colorado reported a 54% increase in marijuana public consumption citations since legalization.

Allowing a recreational dispensary anywhere in our town would invite crime and criminals to Cranbury.

As a community that values its farms, the Township Committee also must consider the implications allowing cannabis cultivation would have on the environment and our preserved farmland. Growing cannabis requires vast amounts of water and energy, which directly conflicts with goals of conservation and environmental protection.

California, for example, has seen significant environmental impact since legalizing marijuana in 2016, including marijuana farms that have caused pollution to plants and other natural life to a level that is hazardous to surrounding communities. Here in New Jersey, cannabis cultivation must occur indoors and in a regulated environment like a warehouse, not an open farm, field, or meadow.

How these indoor cultivation centers will comport with Cranbury’s long-established relationship with the state’s Farmland Preservation Program is another unknown aspect of the law that requires guidance from New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

The effect of cannabis licenses on our local businesses also must be a consideration. In his Facebook post of March 26, Mayor Ferrante acknowledged Cranbury’s reputation for being a difficult environment for businesses, and he expressed a desire to avoid making a decision that would result in unintended consequences to those businesses. Given the correlation between cannabis dispensaries and the increase in violent crimes, property crimes and public consumption citations, it’s clear that the town’s businesses that cater to our families— Little Owl Enrichment, Gil & Bert’s, Cranbury Pizza, and Teddy’s Restaurant, to name a few — will be negatively impacted in a significant way.

We applaud the mayor’s acknowledgement that the relationship between the town and its businesses can be a difficult one. But the answer to resolving that difficulty is not to make it easy for drug businesses to establish themselves here.

Potential tax revenue is a point that is sometimes raised in favor of allowing any/all cannabis licenses in our town. The New Jersey cannabis law permits taxation of recreational sales at a rate of up to 2%, and up to 1% if the licensee is considered a “wholesaler.” That assumes, however, that the town can track the revenue of a cash-only business.

We already have a cash-only medical marijuana dispensary in town, Breakwater Treatment & Wellness. How much extra revenue has Breakwater generated for our town? Would allowing other marijuana businesses in our town generate that much more?

Fortunately, the answers to these questions are irrelevant thanks to the past good work of members of the Township Committee and other town leaders, which has led to a more than $7 million surplus to our budget and has allowed Cranbury to control ever-escalating New Jersey property taxes.

Hand-in-hand with tax revenue is property values. According to the same study referenced above and published in Regional Science and Urban Economics, the presence of a recreational drug dealing establishment reduced property values in the State of Washington by 3% to 4.5% for homes within 0.36 miles of the drug shop. That decrease was due primarily to the already established increase in crime that occurs in the areas surrounding recreational drug shops.

Clearly, there is no discernible benefit to allowing recreational cannabis businesses in our town. If there’s a concern among adult Cranbury residents who enjoy marijuana, passing an ordinance to prohibit the cultivation, manufacture, wholesaling, distribution, and retail sale of cannabis in town will not impede their ability to obtain and use marijuana in their private homes. No ordinance can prevent the delivery of marijuana to residents in Cranbury who purchase it outside of town, whether online or otherwise.

Finally, we note that our goal here is not to sound alarmist. Our concern is that some on the Township Committee have hedged on this issue and have not clearly stated their respective positions. Thus, one could persuasively argue that some on the Township Committee are under partisan political pressure to vote against opting out of allowing cannabis licenses in Cranbury. That approach, if true, would be perverse.

This is not a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. And it’s certainly not an issue we should allow any small, insular political group with ulterior motives to lead the charge on by trying to pressure members of the Township Committee.

This is a Cranbury issue, and we have seen members of both political parties voice opposition to the recreational sale of marijuana. Indeed, we all should be united to ensure that Cranbury remains the safe, family-centered community we have come to cherish.

We thank Committeewoman Evelyn Spann for making her position in favor of opting out clear during the discussions and debates at the Township Committee meetings. And we thank Committeeman Jay Taylor for making his position clear in his well-penned opinion piece published in the Cranbury Press on March 9. We now call on Barbara Rogers, Matt Scott and especially Mayor Michael Ferrante to do the job we’ve entrusted them with by hearing the voices of their constituents and voting for Cranbury to opt-out of all cannabis licenses.

To sign a petition asking the Cranbury Township Committee to opt out of all cannabis licenses, visit https://tinyurl.com/CranburyCannabisPetition

 

Your Turn: The Cranbury Township Committee must opt out of cannabis licenses