The Jersey City Council voted down an ordinance on second reading to cap adult-use cannabis dispensaries at 55 citywide, with the majority of the governing body citing concerns about equity issues on the south side.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“My concerns are that a lot of brothers went to jail for illegally selling cannabis. The brothers … are not having the wherewithal to do business,” Phillip Carrington began during the public hearing, inquiring if people with a criminal record could obtain licenses.
“They can get licensed. If they’re incarcerated, and they come out, they can get a license,” City Council President Joyce Watterman responded.
Business Administrator John Metro added that cannabis start ups are costly and entrepreneurs often run into budgetary issues.
Additionally, LaVerne Webb Washington alleged that smoke shops on Martin Luther King Drive were already selling marijuana, while Lawrence sneed asked why dispensaries were being capped.
“The administration is asking for the council to limit it due to the A: number of applications we received, and to have a handle on the market as we see the economics of it. We have provided, I believe, 27 so far. We’re willing to work with the community on finding locations in those neighborhoods,” Metro explained.
Sneed followed up by asking if this was a measure being taken just to control the market.
“If we limit, and it’s necessary to increase it, we can increase it. It’s a new substance. Like when you get something new to see what direction it’s going to go in. Since it’s such a new market,” Watterman replied.
As several council members did at Monday’s caucus, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley expressed that questions about equity remained unanswered. Therefore, she could not support the measure.
“There’s still a lot of questions with this ordinance. We can’t necessarily tell people where to open them. This number 55, I don’t if this is the right number,” she said.
“We shouldn’t certainly allow as many cannabis companies as we can get. We might even need to stop taking them. I don’t think that we need to just let everything keep moving. I am going to vote no.”
Ward B Mira Prinz-Arey said she was concerned that cannabis license applicants have to hold onto real estate for an undetermined amount of time to apply for a license they may not get before they can open.
“They’re essentially stuck. This is all new, and we are learning as we go. There are a few more concerns I have. I’m going to go ahead and vote no. I do want to keep having these conversations. I want this to be equitable and fair,” she said.
For example, Prinz-Arey said people could hold a storefront property and would be doing so in vain if they were the 56th applicant in line.
Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano was succinct, indicating that he thought 55 was simply too many dispensaries before voting no.
“I think it’s too little. I’m still going to vote no. There haven’t been enough cannabis establishments on the south side of the city,” indicated Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh.
“We need to do a better effort in terms of reaching out in terms of anyone who wants to establish a cannabis dispensary.”
He said the city needs to make an effort to speak to the community and have information sessions.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon echoed those sentiments, as well as the fact that he wasn’t sure if Jersey City had the market to support 55 dispensaries.
“The number 55 cap is quite high. I’m not sure the market will support 55 dispensaries,” he added.
“It’s about equity, legalizing marijuana to get it right. With this cap and so much uncertainty, I don’t think it’s right at this juncture,” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, who led the conversation at Monday’s caucus, said.
He liked the idea of incubators managed by the Jersey City Development Corporation (JCDC) which controls Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funding.
“That is something I would like to see. I think it’s the right thing to do to cap. I think it sets a standard we can increase.”
Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise had a different perspective and was the lone elected to vote yes for the local legislation.
“I think work with incubators and education circles could provide better access,” she stated.
A city-funded incubator is an innovative concept that has the potential to help struggling applicants.
The NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission recently announced the Business Action Center would launch a training program for applicants. But it is still in the works.
Watterman abstained since her daughter co-owns a dispensary, but still explained her perspective.
“You can’t tell people where to open up a business. This is something that affects the Black and Brown community. We need to do all we can for them to start this business. In caucus, I brought up the concern the UEZ can create incubators for small Black and Brown businesses,” she reiterated.
“It’s very expensive. There has to be a better mechanism in place to help the Black and Brown be a part of this business.”
The ordinance was defeated 1-6(1), with Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera was absent.
On the other side of the coin, Cream Dispensary was approved 7-1, with Boggiano voting no.
“I did speak with the dispensary owners. They did meet with the neighborhood, but it was roughly a year ago. They promised to have another one in a couple weeks,” Solomon said before voting yes on the potential downtown storefront at 284 1st St.