The Hoboken City Council approved two new amendments for legal cannabis establishments at last night’s meeting: prohibiting all smoking in parks and preventing cannabis licenses at Marine View.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Prior to the vote, Public Safety Director Kenneth Ferrante, a former city police chief, fielded questions about an ordinance to eliminate any form of smoking in parks.
“Assistant AG [Attorney General] Joe Walsh was speaking for AG Grewal when legalization of adult-use cannabis came into play and they did not want cities creating ordinances, municipal ordinances, for no cannabis in certain areas,” he explained.
“Our police staff did some research with this new ordinance and by creating and bringing it to any smoking at all: vaping, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, also including cannabis. This will allow for summonses to be issued. However, and speaking with Chief Aguiar yesterday, that will not be the ultimate goal to go out and start issuing summonses.”
He continued that Aguiar would like to do an education campaign and make sure there is signage in every park before summonses are issued, as well as pointing out that it is a crime to stop or search someone due to the sight or scent of marijuana.
Corporation Counsel Brian Aloia pointed out that state regulations on legal cannabis use are fluid, so therefore members of the public should not treat this portion of the meeting as legal advice, but simply the council having regular discussion on local legislation.
He also later said that he was not sure if the ordinance considered the waterfront a park and would have to see how the term was defined.
The measure passed unanimously (9-0).
During the public portion of the meeting that began around 8:30 p.m., resident Sean Iaquinto stated that marijuana legalization passed with an overwhelming plurality in the November 2020 referendum and trying to impede that is not democratic.
“I’d like to remind the city council that almost 70 percent of New Jersey voted in favor of legalizing marijuana. The examples that certain members of the public brought up earlier about violent crime are from Washington state 2,778 miles away,” he explained.
“What about other states, like Colorado, California, Massachusetts, [instead] zeroing in on crime of one state out of 18 legal marijuana states: this is a huge disservice, and clearly cherry picking, crime statistics. Please don’t let the vocal minority change what almost three million people in New Jersey have voted on.”
He also said that if asked, the average city resident would be in favor of local dispensaries as long as common sense ideas were used.
Conversely, resident Rose Marie Markle said she didn’t understand while the Mile Square City could have up to six dispensaries.
“Somebody wants to smoke, I’m not here to bash anybody about doing it, but I don’t understand why Hoboken always has to go to the extreme: we’re one mile, but yet we’re gonna have six of them. I mean it’s a mile square, we can walk to wherever it is.”
Leslie Bradley, who lives above the former Hudson Tavern which has the preliminary approval to get converted into a cannabis dispensary, spoke against the project – which has been caught up in a bit of controversy.
“For me, and for the people in my building, and for the people in my neighborhood, it’s just about appropriate location and I think the city council needs to continue to work with the residents to find appropriate locations. And in my opinion, a residential building with children and families is not an appropriate location for a recreational cannabis dispensary.”
She concluded by asking each council member to come out publicly against the proposal.
“There’s so many better places to put a cannabis dispensary than Hudson Tavern,” stated 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco.
“I’m on board with that, I’ll denounce it as well,” chimed in 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino.
Prior to getting into his remarks, Tom Brennan, the previous owner of the Hudson Tavern, asked if anyone else would like to denounce it.
“You know I would,” replied 2nd Ward Councilman Tiffanie Fisher, who has been outspoken against the project in her ward. 4th Ward Councilman Ruben Ramos also raised his hand in support.
“Emily, would you like to denounce it?,” Brennan asked Councilwoman-at-Large Emily Jabbour.
“We’re ready for your comment Mr. Brennan,” she responded.
Brennan agreed with what Bradley said, adding that safety, placement, and quality of life still need to be examined and called it a positive development that the council approved an ordinance unanimously to prohibit cannabis licenses at Marine View.
He also noted that Union City will not be allowing any cannabis establishments, while North Bergen is allowing two on different stretches of Tonnelle Avenue – both far away from residential areas, making a similar comparison with Jersey City as well.
Furthermore, Chris Kostopoulos argued that insurance businesses deem dispensaries “high-risk businesses for crime” since marijuana is still illegal on the federal level and related businesses typically keep a lot of cash on hand.
“I’m not the one saying that, these are professionals that do insurance and it’s their job to assess risk, right? They deem it a high-risk business,” he stated.
“What would be great for the City of Hoboken to do is that before there’s a potential violent crime at one of these locations that winds up becoming a tragic news event where there was a shooting and one of Hoboken’s residents was injured or potentially killed, and then we take action after there’s a tragic event, let’s take the action before that tragic event happens.”
The council also voted unanimously to send amendments to the planning board that include providing notice to residents that live within 200 feet of a proposed cannabis establishment, a 600 foot buffer zone for schools, removing dispensaries from commercial neighborhood areas, and making the maximum number of dispensaries six.
“I’m happy to see the city council and the mayor in lockstep moving forward on common sense regulation for cannabis dispensaries for residents, families, and our children,” Fisher said today.