LETTER: Mayor Bhalla’s allies on the Hoboken City Council chose cannabis over kids


In a letter to the editor, Hoboken resident Liz Urtecho details why she feels Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s allies on the city council chose cannabis over kids at last week’s meeting where they voted for a resolution in favor of the Blue Violets dispensary.

Screenshot via Facebook Live.

Dear Editor,

The City Council has let the Hoboken residents know in a 5-4 vote that having a cannabis dispensary approximately 200 feet from two schools is no big deal.

The decision was made before anyone entered the council chambers despite compelling public comments and concerns.

The City Council never addressed ANY of the resident’s legitimate concerns which centered around child/school safety and community benefits, instead the Council gave nonsensical statements that they believed gave them cover for approving Blue Violets Dispensary.

The Majority Council Position

“The World is not ending this evening. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up and find that the sun still rises in the east, our families still love us and we still have to go to work.”

Joe Quintero started off his justification for opening up a dispensary across the street from the school with this soliloquy.

This was the beginning of what would be a lecture from the majority council with every message delivered in a condescending manner that the City Council knows better than its residents.

The Planning Board’s feelings are hurt

This was the sentiment of several council members. Most people would agree that Planning Board members are volunteers and it isn’t an easy job, but members of City Council felt the need to defend them because of some dubious decisions made regarding the Blue Violets hearing.

During the Planning Board meeting, an objection was made regarding the legality of the “Time of Application” statute, the Planning Board and its attorney could not render an opinion. In fact, the meeting went into back-and-forth discussion which made clear to the public that they had no idea what to do.

When members of the Planning Board asked for legal guidance the Planning Board attorney said something to affect, “when there’s ambiguity in the law, we lean to the side of the applicant” This upset residents.

“It may be that it’s as bad as we feared, or may turn out not as bad as we feared.”

Phil Cohen wanted to make the “let’s see how it goes” argument.

Residents made in public comments that it defies common sense that the city would experiment with a dispensary so close in proximity to the schools even if there were a remote possibility of putting the council’s most vulnerable constituents, children, and their school communities at risk.

Evidently, Phil doesn’t believe in common sense arguments and is willing to roll the dice.

There is a Vape Shop across the street!!!

First, “two wrongs don’t make a right” but thank you Emily Jabbour for pointing this out. All Saints has been complaining about the Vape Shop since it opened. It was the city’s zoning laws that allowed that business to go in, in the first place.

Could you please get rid of that store and all of the improper alcohol advertising on that corner? You have the power to do it!

The word “fear-mongering” is in the public ethos and members of the City Council are using it

“Fear-mongering” along with “stigmatizer” are labels used as a cudgel to shame residents from voicing their legitimate concerns.

Residents have been repeatedly stating that this issue has nothing to do with cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken. In fact, most residents are in favor of cannabis dispensaries opening in Hoboken.

In the case of Blue Violets, it has always been about its location and proximity to the schools.

It seems it’s harder to get a deck approved on the back of your house than it is to open a cannabis dispensary.

A point was made that during zoning/planning board meetings, residents have been in tears when their projects were rejected by either of the land use boards.

Blue Violet’s application soared through the process without having to present a traffic or architecture study to the public or board.

City Council continues to conflate recreational and medicinal cannabis usage

Several members of the City Council used the need for medicinal cannabis for cancer, anxiety, postpartum-related issues, as arguments for approving Blue Violets. Nobody disagrees that cannabis has a valuable medicinal purpose.

Reminder, we are talking about a recreational dispensary. A maximum of six dispensaries will be opening in Hoboken’s mile square. That means a cannabis purchaser will only need to walk a few blocks away to a dispensary.

Residents argue that asking a cannabis purchaser to walk 600 feet away from the schools to get to a dispensary is not an undue burden whether for medicinal or recreational purposes.

I am a social worker so I know better

Emily Jabbour found herself in an awkward position. She is the face of Moms Demand Action and Vision Zero, and this vote seemed to be in conflict with a mother who advocates for child safety. She decided her approach was to divorce her “mom” role in the decision.

Instead, she decided to be a social worker for this meeting and as such is more qualified to decide on whether Blue Violet should be on the corner of 7th and Washington dismissing research presented by residents.

She throws out the “family and kids first” position and takes on the “cannabis purchaser first” position. Not sure how she reconciles that but she does need to sleep at night.

Those who need cannabis feel bullied

Wow! This is another cudgel. Reminder, those who oppose Blue Violets, oppose its location only. Nobody cares if you use cannabis!

Members of the City Council are using words like “fear-mongering” and “stigmatization” in the public forums in order to create an inaccurate image of residents who oppose Blue Violets.

If the statement is accurate, that residents of the community feel cannabis bullied, then maybe they should look to the City Council which is perpetuating that narrative.

We respect everyone’s opinion

Many of the council members would start their statements with “I respect everyone’s opinion” which led the public to wait for the “but … we know better than you” speech.

When you have to say, “I respect everyone’s opinion” over and over, you know it’s a phrase they want to hide behind but is completely disingenuous. The public is not stupid and sees right through these condescending statements.

One might wonder why the City Council would take such a position when the optics are poor and potential litigation has arisen.

Look no further than Story Dispensary, applying in a C3 zone, also against our Common Sense Cannabis ordinance.

If the council rejected Blue Violets on any basis, it would open the precedent of rejecting any cannabis dispensaries in violation of the common sense ordinance.

There is too much political favor and money to gain with Story’s potential approval (future gubernatorial candidate Steve Fulop’s wife and his super PAC director are the de facto owners of said property).

This City Council majority wants to ensure Story Dispensary sails through and doesn’t want to have any conflict with that vote. So … City Council decided to risk the health, safety, and well-being of the children in this community for political favor and money. Let that sink in.

It’s all about Story.

Liz Urtecho
Hoboken resident

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  1. Explain how the proximity of a cannabis dispensary “hurts the health, safety and well-being of children.” That’s like saying the proximity of a butcher shop hurts vegetarians.

    Children are not allowed inside dispensaries, nor will promotional “smoke ganja” posters adorn the storefronts (a la “Joe the Camel”).

    Apoplexy over a business that serves adults only is what really “harms” children by tempting them to try the forbidden. Hoboken has 120+ bars! Your children and mine pass dozens of bars to and from school. If 6 dispensaries in a city of 120+ bars threatens the “health, safety and well-being” of children, I have to say that you are ridiculous.

    • Yet another case of public bullying against those who are asking for reasonable governance in installing dispensaries in our city. Also super ironic to be citing the problem of the bars in our community – council President Russo’s father former mayor Tony Russo is, in fact, largely to blame for that blight on this community (numerous indictments for kickbacks from bar owners during his administration for zoning favors and the like. It’s also notable that Tony Russo himself also went away for taking bribes from bar owners in 2003).

      And yet you side with Council President Russo in this matter of dispensaries. It just seems like history is repeating itself here, this time with cannabis. This administration and council majority is letting Steve Fulop and Story Dispensary owner Drew Nussbaum (and the $5.3 million in his PAC, Coalition for Progress) dictate cannabis policy in Hoboken. It ain’t right, and it ain’t a recipe for rational governance aimed at bettering the community.

    • NIMBY ? NEVER !
      The you do for me, I do for you son of a convicted felon daddy and $5 bucks a tow momma would never allow a pot shop anywhere near the white brick Church Towers. Unle$$.

  2. I read this article very closely. I did not see a single specific example of what harms this writer believes will happen as a result of this approval. Just generally “think of the children!” Thank goodness for democracy….it ensures that the loudest minority doesn’t get to make decisions for everyone. Marijuana is legal in New Jersey. You live in New Jersey. You talk about how dangerous and harmful this will be to children, so your solution is to put it somewhere else? As long as it’s “not in my backyard” right? What about the children there?

    • If you had read the letter carefully and understood the context in which it was written, you would know that Hoboken’s City Council voted 8-1 against Dispensaries being located (as this one is) near a school. The ordinance was voted on in April, and strictly prohibits dispensaries from being within 600 feet of primary and secondary schools. Mayor Bhalla even advocated for 750 feet (Empty words, apparently). Please give the article pertaining to that ordinance a read here if you’d like to be better informed on the matter –> http://hudsoncountyview.com/hoboken-city-council-passes-second-reading-of-common-sense-legal-cannabis-reforms/

      So I guess 8 of our City Council reps feel just as strongly about a dispensary being “in my [school’s] backyard.” Are *they* as wrong as Nancy Reagan?

      5 Members of City Council voted in favor of the Blue Violets dispensary because their hands are tied. They cannot allow the public to think they have any latitude in their votes with regards to the Common Sense Ordinance (even though they do, which Council President attested to prior to the vote – Sorry Russo, “slight” ain’t a legal term last time I checked). This is because Drew Nussbaum, Mayor Steve Fulop’s Political Action Committee director is the partner for Story Dispensary, another business awaiting a vote which is in direct violation of the Common Sense Cannabis Ordinance. This PAC, Coalition for Progress, has $5.3 million dollars on hand (link here –> https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs/C00582841/summary/2022) to hand out to numerous Bhalla allies, such as council members Russo, Doyle, Quintero, Cohen, and Jabbour.

      I’m happy you’re getting your green, but at what expense to our city’s credibility as a place where ordinances have any meaning whatsoever?

  3. Who’s talking about Councilman Russo, you weirdo?

    FREE SPEECH on a public message board is not “public bullying.” As a long time resident and taxpayer, it’s my right ( and yours!) to respond to this or ANY published Op-Ed on a matter of public interest and public concern. Capisce?

    I’ll repeat. This theatre of the most-absurd that a dispensary will “hurt the health, safety and well-being of our children” is straight outta the cult classic “Reefer Madness.”


  4. This woman supported and voted for both Zimmer and Bhalla, she writes an excellent opinion and criticism of a council meeting and its results and what happens?
    The Bhalla Internet DEATH SQUAD sends its ELITE GUARD of TROLLS out and attacks a 5TH WARD homeowner and MOTHER with CHILDREN!
    If anyone attacked the Bhallas or his wife this way the claims of racism would be on NIXLE and tweeted 24/7 by his brotherhood of Hudson Democrat Groupie TROLLS

    Nice to see Ravi and Russo have taken Hoboken back to Daddy Russo CORRUPTION DAYS, only with Homeless and CRIME on the streets now

    • Irrelevant. The OP’s statement that a dispensary “will hurt the health, safety and well-being of our children” is ABSURD. Absolutely ridiculous. Hyperbole with nothing to support it.

      Sad, not a single serious poster on any HCV thread, just partisan political hacks.

        • “Relevant that Bhalla is losing support” — you proved the point that you’re a partisan political hack, this thread is infested with partisan political hacks, and most importantly, that the OP’s hyperbolic statement (dispensary will “hurt the health, safety and well-being of our children”) is NONSENSE.

          Mayors come and go, so do partisan political hacks. Weed dispensaries are here to stay.

  5. Wow, what causes Jim Doyle to just throw all his years of good service, activism and concern for Hoboken out the window?
    He usually hates everything that came here after 1990 – unless it’s a running shoe store!

    Legacy Legal residuals?

  6. Wouldn’t have bothered me either way how the city council voted on Blue Violets, but Story MUST be approved and that’s a problem since there is obviously political enrichment going with that store. The passing of the commonsense cannabis law means that if Story is voted down there won’t be any other cannabis store in that uptown section of Hoboken ever. I don’t want those uptown A-holes to have that as a permanent victory. I was so offended by the behavior of the uptown crowd and the type of things they said about themselves and their neighborhood. They are not special or better than anybody else in town and they really think they are. Gross. Some of them said they would leave Hoboken if Story opened. I hope they do.

    • You are simply incorrect Lewis.

      While I can somewhat sympathize with a pot head having to walk a block or two the get their fix all these drug stores will also have a home delivery service.

  7. Must be nice to own a huge 6 million dollar property on Washington St with probably a lease that includes proceeds- After all the landlord’s son called into the council hearing like a hysterical clown spewing all about being born here and typical Russo style 3rd ward anti newcommer garbage.
    Guess Mike Do for Church Towers… AGAIN