The Hoboken City Council narrowly approved a resolution supporting the Blue Violets cannabis dispensary in the midst of opposition from the public and some tense exchanges between electeds.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
Blue Violets was approved by the Hoboken Planning Board one week ago despite about a dozen people speaking out against the project.
“Everyone is in close proximity to everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of urban living. We want to be here in Hoboken playing a role in normalizing cannabis. There are liquor stores, bars, smoke shops, bongs, and tobacco advertisements near schools for years,” Blue Violets CEO Lauren Chang Thompson said.
She noted the presence of cigarette ads at the height a child could see in a convenience store nearly their business, which would open at 628 Washington St.
Elizabeth Urtecho, who tried to prevent the planning board from hearing their application over timeliness complained about their proximity to a school.
“I worry about the unintentional consequences. I am concerned about the school’s future enrollment,” she said.
“Policemen will be reluctant to do anything,” Roberto Verthelyi said about enforcing cannabis rules.
“I’ve heard people cite that 70 percent of Hoboken voted for recreational cannabis. There’s nothing in that ballot question saying how many and where they should be located,” Nicole Amato added, also claiming the process has been too fast.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, who has also come out strongly against the Story Dispensary in her ward, said that no one other than the applicant has spoke in favor of Blue Violets to date.
Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle, also a planning board commissioner, said that many of the speakers against cannabis have been repeats and weren’t representative of the entire city.
“On Monday, we were here till 1:15 in the morning for a different application. There’s no compensation, and then they get this. This question tonight is different,” he stated.
“I’m not sure how any members of the public who come to a meeting are representative of the 60,000 plus people who live in town. All this bias tonight that we have heard does strain the credibility of the speaker.”
Council President Mike Russo, also the chair of the city’s cannabis review board, said that dispenaries should not be voted down because of a small group of people opposed to the application.
“We set dispensaries in the City of Hoboken. We can’t say because we don’t like the location, we can’t act on the law we passed as a council. That to me is far overreaching,” he explained.
6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino noted that a dispensary was voted down by the CRB for being too close to other locations, while Blue Violets was approved despite being near a school of underage children who could not enter a dispensary legally.
“That was completely discretionary. This is our opportunity to make sure we don’t have cannabis within 600 feet of a school.”
5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, who was among three who was critical of Fisher’s approach to legal cannabis and other city issues earlier in the day, said that the applicants had done their due diligence and deserved a chance.
“It is reasonable and appropriate for these neighbors to be scared. In the end … the only thing that will make people comfortable with this neighbor is to live with the neighbor. We truly do not know. The fear is real. These two applicants have come before this body. They’ve had a table in front of their business … and done actual community outreach,” he noted.
“This is something that simply has not happened with other owners. They’re local people. They’re not … a big moneyed concern. And they’ve testified they’ve poured their life savings into this.”
He noted how discrete a cannabis dispensary would be due to state and municipal law in stark contrast to a life-sized Corona bottle on the same block.
“It is unfortunate that these planning board volunteers… were confronted by Councilwoman Fisher who came up on the dais. These people, after a long night and a contentious hearing, had to have a council person in their face come up to them and accuse them of being poor commissioners,” Cohen added.
Fisher chimed in stating that she didn’t do that and Cohen lied, to which he responded that he didn’t interrupt her when she had the floor. Russo then told Fisher not to speak out of turn.
“These people are community volunteers. You should respect the work they do,” Cohen exclaimed.
“The people who operate this dispensary do not have a license from the state and it’s gonna be a while before they get one. This dispensary is not popping up any time soon. I’ve gotten emails from people who are in favor. I got a number of people who said to approve Blue Violets. People I’ve never heard from before.”
Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour also noted that the dispensary would be a block away from the school, which is already across the street from a vape shop.
“A vape shop sells artificial marijuana that has toxic materials included and Juul and other tobacco products that frankly are far more easily accessible to children. It feels like people are using that talking point to fear monger,” Jabbour added.
“I am frankly concerned that people who support cannabis in our community have been bullied out of this room. I know because I hear from them when I speak to them one-on-one. They feel they are being targeted. Tonight’s hearing proved exactly why people are nervous to come forward and say ‘I’m a mom, I take these products because they help me sleep at night, to get through the pandemic, to deal with breast cancer.’ I am very concerned those viewpoints have not been represented fairly.”
Russo added that while he respected everyone’s opinion on this, he said that some members of the public are “being guided by misinformation” and that legal cannabis has been a discussion in Hoboken since 2018.
He also claimed it was insulting that Council members said they did not read the comprehensive cannabis ordinance they voted for last summer and claimed they did not know how expansive it was.
“Any council members who didn’t read it, shame on them! Some council members made sure their home was carved out, but didn’t make sure that your home was.”
The resolution supporting Blue Violets was approved 5-4, with Fisher, Giattino, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, and 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos voting no.
This makes them the first dispensary to receive planning board and city council approval in the Mile Square City.