By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
During public comment, Blue Violets co-owner Max Thompson thanked the council in advance for supporting his CHA. He noted that while they received a resolution from them in September, the CHA process had to be amended.
“It reflects a fair proposal in light of us being Hoboken’s only micro dispensary. It’s been nearly a year-and-a-half since the cannabis political saga began,” he said.
“For years there has been a head shop and liquor store across from All Saints school. We trust parents to talk to their children. It’s a small city. Children are everywhere . There is nothing commons sense about an arbitrary distance requirement,” Thompson added about the 600 foot rule for dispensaries near schools.
Hoboken 5th Ward council candidate Liz Urtecho, who spearheads the Hoboken for Responsible Cannabis, Inc. that is challenging Blue Violets in court, said a court date is set for July 18th and the council should wait on the judge’s decision.
“We are literally putting every penny of ours on the line,” Thompson said to applause.
“Village Dispensary is approximately 460 feet from the Hoboken Middle School, which violates the city’s buffer,” Urtecho claimed.
She said they wanted it grandfathered in before the requirement went into effect, but even in that scenario, Urtecho said that Blue Violets would still be in violation.
“I am asking the city council postpone both… contingent upon the outcome of that case which is going to court July 18th. The public schools are not being served equally,” she stated.
Resident Bob Conrad said there was a lack of social justice in the CHAs, arguing that there’s supposed to be money for security, expungement clinics, affordable housing, and food banks.
“None of those specifics are in the types of agreements I read,” Conrad asserted.
The vote on Blue Violets was first and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, a strong opponent of Story Dispensary coming to her neighborhood, noted that the resolution was initially supposed to be pushed until August to wait for a judge’s decision.
She called the amended “common sense” cannabis ordinance approved last April a compromise since Mayor Ravi Bhalla wanted a 750-foot distance and council members wanted 500.
“Blue Violets did not submit their application until after our laws went into effect. They chose not to,” Fisher alleged.
“The only thing that is being questioned is whether or not the cannabis review board … is considered a land use board. It’s not up for us to decide,” she added, reiterating that the location is less than 300 feet from two schools.
Nonetheless, Councilman-at-Large Jim Doyle remained unconvinced.
“Many of the things you just said are your interpretations. These are things the court will decide. If this host agreement is approved tonight, there will be no grand opening of the store tomorrow. There are further steps necessary to open,” he said.
“I disagree with many, if not most, of your comments. Calling it common sense over and over doesn’t make it common sense.”
Councilman-at-Large Joe Quintero said the law department has advised the council that they should move forward as if there is no litigation.
“We have been conditioned in this country, since the 30s, to believe this product is bad. These businesses followed the rules we set up to a T. This community is saying … ‘it’s ok to change the rules out from somebody because we don’t like it,’” Quintero declared.
“If you do open, I’ll show up,” he added to applause.
3rd Ward Councilman Mike Russo, the vice president of the board, also spoke in favor of legal cannabis and encourage his colleagues to vote for this.
“We’re not voting on do we want this dispensary. That’s been decided on. That’s being litigated. I understand there’s a lot of fear involved. Everyone should vote for this.”
6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino disagreed.
“I don’t have any fear: This isn’t good for our town. As a mother of three teenage boys, I don’t want it and I’m voting no.”
“As a father of four children, I vote yes,” Russo exclaimed.
The governing body approved the measure 5-4, with 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco, 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos, Fisher, and Giattino voting no.
The Village cannabis dispensary, which is co-owned by former NBA star Al Harrington, was then debated.
“Village is on the 500 block of Washington and within 600 feet of Demarest [Middle School]. We’ve heard from a few parents who are not happy. We don’t know if the parents of the middle school are aware,” Fisher said.
Doyle said the 600-foot rule is not as straightforward as it seems, noting that it is open to interpretation on where the measurement starts and ends.
“We’ve already had the discussion … of all these issues. They’ve all been decided in a way some council people don’t like,” asserted 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen.
“Two years ago, we made a mistake … It’s a mistake I often lose sleep over,” DeFusco claimed.
He said he went to the Ascend dispensary in Montclair to buy cannabis, noting that he is in favor of recreational use, as well as the length of the line, which could be problematic when children are nearby.
“I made a mistake when I voted yes on the new rules. Folks followed the rules, we’ve got to treat them fairly,” Quintero said.
The CHA for Village Dispensary was also approved 5-4, with the same council members voting no as they did on the prior vote.