At a standing room only community forum yesterday, Hoboken and state officials addressed the topic of marijuana legalization before Mayor Ravi Bhalla and the city council decide how dispensary licenses are distributed.
Bhalla was joined by six other panel members who represented a broad swath of voices in the ongoing marijuana legalization debate.
One of them was a marijuana dispensary owner who challenged opponents’ arguments by saying that Colorado has seen a rise in traffic fatalities and arrests a disproportionate arrest of non-white populations.
Additionally, Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante exclaimed that until the state legislature legalizes marijuana, city police officers would continue to make arrests when they see people smoking marijuana in public, even though the majority of arrests are made up of people of color.
“Unfortunately, every rule in the book right now mandates a police officer to make a drug arrest, until it’s legalized. That’s why law enforcement chiefs were so in favor of decriminalization, then focus on working on the recreational use,” said Ferrante.
He then gave a breakdown of marijuana arrests in Hoboken in the last two years.
“There were 211 arrests: 87 were white-hispanic, 44 white/non-hispanic, 12 black-hispanic and 68 black/non-hispanic. Is that consistent with the numbers that we’re seeing state wide, absolutely, which is part of the problem,” Ferrante said.
In an interview, Bhalla explained the specifics of the forthcoming ordinance the council will eventually vote on.
“That ordinance would create a regulatory framework in the event that medicinal and adult-use marijuana were to become legalized in New Jersey. Essentially, we’re trying to prepare for that eventuality by creating a framework to, not necessarily to permit it in Hoboken, but give applicants the ability to apply for licenses within Hoboken,” the mayor said.
At Hudson County View‘s own forum on marijuana legalization last month, state Senator Ronald Rice (D-28) objected strongly to the legalization of recreational marijuana because he said that legalization would not reduce disparities in drug-related arrests among white and non-white populations.
We asked Bhalla to respond to that argument.
“They’re two sides to every debate. What we are here to do is to look at the issue holistically, from a racial justice perspective, from a municipal perspective, from a quality of life perspective, from a tax perspective, really the standpoint of the residents of Hoboken; we want to listen as legislators to what the community wants so that we can tailor our laws to meet the needs of the communities.”
Furthermore, on the potential economic impact of marijuana legalization, Bhalla cited benefits in the form of additional tax revenue for the city.
“That could be beneficial. We are trying to push for an excise tax that would allow municipalities to tax the sale of adult-use or medicinal marijuana, which is an ongoing conversation with the state legislature.”
Throughout the panel and even afterwards, Councilwomen Tiffanie Fisher and Jen Giattino expressed pause about voting on this pivotal issue without having all the facts in front of them.
“This is an emotional and major issue for Hoboken and as I said at the meeting last night, as a legislative body we need to resolve the many unanswered questions before any legislation is considered for a vote,” Fisher told HCV.
“This meeting, organized by the mayor’s office and heavily weighted with representatives from the cannabis industry, is only the first, not the last, public discussion on the topic. We first need to understand what action, if any, the state is taking and then we will take whatever steps (and time) necessary to get this decision right for Hoboken.”
Giattino was succinct while echoing a similar sentiment.
“Hoboken should wait for state legislation on cannabis before considering a local ordinance. This is not something Hoboken should take the lead on,” she said.