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Linwood moves to prohibit cannabis sales

Linwood moves to prohibit cannabis sales

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LINWOOD — City Council introduced an ordinance at their July 14 meeting that if passed at the second reading on Aug. 11 will prohibit the retail sale of all cannabis products within city borders.

The ordinance likewise prohibits the use of marijuana anywhere in the city but an individual’s private residence. The move to ban all cannabis-related businesses was done to get ahead of the state-imposed deadline of Aug. 21 for municipalities to take a stand on cannabis sales in their town. That date is six months after the use of recreational marijuana was legalized in New Jersey.

As a community, 67% of Linwood voters cast their ballots to approve the use of recreational marijuana in the November election. City Councilman Matt Levinson acknowledged that Linwood voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use,

“But they did not approve the sale of it in their own back yard,” he said.

A committee of Linwood City Council members met with residents in a town hall setting to discuss the state plan on cannabis-related businesses on June 29. The committee includes Councilwoman June Byrnes, Councilman Matt Levinson and Councilman Todd Michael. At that time four residents spoke in favor of permitting cannabis retail sales in Linwood and one resident suggested the city ban the sales.

At issue is not just the sale of cannabis products, but the 2% tax the city would be able to impose on all retail sales. One resident speaking in favor of permitting the sale of cannabis products within Linwood city limits was Jill Ojserkis.

“Many of us will never agree that adult-use marijuana should have been approved. However, we can all agree that using legal means to reduce the taxes which we pay is good. The reason why I am in favor of legalization is to ensure that Linwood sees its fair share of tax revenue associated with these businesses,” Ojserkis said.

“Marijuana will be delivered in Linwood regardless of whether it can be sold here, and it will be a short drive to other local towns which will permit sales.”

Ojserkis added that the increased use of marijuana may increase law enforcement costs and will create a need for drug resource officers. The tax could help offset or eliminate those costs.

The state has not been clear on what municipalities should expect when they finally hand down their decision on cannabis-related businesses in late August. There are six different classifications of licenses that are available. Class 1 is for a cannabis cultivator (grower), Class 2 is for cannabis manufacturer, Class 3 is for a cannabis wholesaler, Class 4 is for a cannabis distributor, Class 5 is for cannabis retailer and Class 6 is for cannabis delivery service (They must be able to obtain the product to be delivered to the consumer from their retail store).

Levinson said City Council was acting to prohibit the sale of cannabis products in Linwood because if a municipality does not act before Aug. 22, the city is at the mercy of the state and it is unclear what the state will permit.

According to a guideline suggested by the New Jersey League of Municipalities, Class 1-4 and Class 6 licenses would be permitted in all industrial zones and the retail selling of cannabis products would be permitted in a commercial or retail zones.

“We are trying to work through this. We are told that if we say no to retail sales now, we will be able to opt back in, but if we do nothing then our status is frozen for five years,” Levinson said.

Another hurdle in Linwood is where a cannabis retail store would be permitted. With the buffer zone of 1,000 feet from any school, park, and the bike path severely impacting the areas where the location of a retail operation is possible.

According to Jan Heller of Polistina and Associates, the Linwood engineer, the only area where a possible retail location could be established in Linwood is a small area along New Road from Central Avenue to the Northfield border. That includes Central Square Shopping Center.

“While more people spoke in favor of permitting cannabis sales in Linwood, I received many, many emails from residents saying they were not in favor of it,” Levinson said. “Every single day we are trying to find ways to increase revenue in the city. ... With all our school buildings and the bike path it is not something that we are comfortable with right now.”

Levinson did add, “This is not over but we should not be pushed to make a decision if there is not an appropriate avenue for Linwood to move forward.”

The councilman said the vote was unanimous but that members are open to continuing to listen to what the residents have to say.

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