The Cranbury Township Committee will look to stay one step ahead of possible changes to New Jersey’s drug laws with an ordinance that would prohibit retail sales of recreational marijuana in town.
The measure is expected to come up at the committee meeting later this month, in a community already home to a medical marijuana facility, Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center. In large measure, any local ordinance would prohibit what is already against the law. But with Gov. Phil Murphy supporting legalizing recreational marijuana and state lawmakers introducing legislation to that end, officials want to be ahead of the curve.
“At this point, I don’t think that we can say this is what the law is going to be, at the state level. It’s a little bit of an unknown,” said Township Attorney Daniel A. Davidow during Monday’s Committee meeting, when the issue came up.
Other New Jersey communities are looking to preemptively ban retail sales or have done so already.
Township Committeeman James Taylor, concerned about the impacts on property values and the school system, said he had reached out to members of area judiciary to get their view. Their advice, he said, was that it would be “better to have something on the books than to have nothing on the books right now.”
“So I think that if we end up ever having to defend ourselves,” he said, “we’d mostly likely have a favorable view from the bench.”
Township Committeeman Matthew A. Scott raised concern about going to the trouble of creating an ordinance ahead of what happens in Trenton.
“My only fear is that we’re going to spend all this time and energy on coming up with a statute and it’s just going to be irrelevant by the time the final bill is written,” he said.
For his part, Township Committeeman Daniel P. Mulligan III raised concern that he did not trust state government to “implement anything properly,” in his words.
“There’s really a high risk that they’re going to screw this up,” he said, “so I want something defensible."
“When I look at it strategically, for Cranbury,” Mulligan said, “I think what we should consider is to definitely, at the very least, ban retail sales. And it gives us a defensible position if the state comes in and enacts a law that we don’t agree with and does something negatively to Cranbury.”
Proponents of legalization have talked about the economic benefits through additional tax revenue, with estimates of more than $300 million annually, based on an analysis by legalization advocates.
For his part, Mayor Glenn R. Johnson was skeptical of the rosy financial predictions. He pointed to the experience of Colorado, which legalized marijuana, where the price of marijuana started out at around $36 per gram and then, as more growers came in, fell to about $8.
“So if you’re talking about a tax that’s based on the purchase price,” he said, “it seems like it’s going to be a decreasing thing over a period of years.”
Johnson said he had asked for time to testify before a state Assembly committee that will have a hearing on marijuana next month.
Scott, picking up on the theme of legalization helping the economy, raised a hypothetical scenario of a marijuana dispensary in the downtown.
“People love to eat when they smoke pot. There would be better restaurants in town, just more foot traffic,” he said.
He later raised a concern that Cranbury might lose out on a dispensary that decides to go to a more hospitable community.
Medical marijuana is already legal in the state. The town has had no problems with Breakwater, Mulligan said.
“That’s been fine, I toured the facility myself,” said Mulligan, who added he agreed in “principle” with medical marijuana.
Whatever changes New Jersey makes, however, would not impact federal drug laws.
Breakwater is illegal under federal law, Davidow said. The federal government has said, during the Obama administration, that it would not prosecute medicinal operators that comply with state law, Davidow said.
“But at any point,” he said, “any marijuana-related activity in the country can get shut down by the feds.”