The Highland Park Borough Council voted to reaffirm its commitment to opening a cannabis retail marketplace in Highland Park when it amended its cannabis dispensary ordinance to comply with the language of the state law. The crux of the municipal cannabis ordinance, however, remained unchanged from what was passed unanimously by council in August 2021.
The ordinance permits the operation of cannabis dispensaries (up to six retail dispensary licenses and one medical dispensary license) and delivery of cannabis products in the borough. The retail cannabis outlets can operate only in the Central Business District. The ordinance prohibits cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and wholesale businesses from operating in the borough.
Although some borough residents at recent meetings spoke out against the ordinance, council members heard from many more residents over the past year in favor of allowing cannabis retail outlets for economic, social justice, and common-sense reasons.
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler of Highland Park stated: “With cannabis sales slated to be allowed in our two large bordering towns, it is a moot point as to whether or not there will be cannabis consumed in our town. It most certainly will. What this new ordinance does is enable Highland Park to influence how cannabis will be distributed in Highland Park and to reap tax benefits from its retail sales.”
“The residents of Highland Park overwhelmingly support the legalization of cannabis,” said Councilman Matthew Hale. “Our ordinance takes a measured approach, to fit the needs of Highland Park. There is a way to go in this process but Highland Park is ready to be a leader in the responsible use of cannabis.”
He and other council members noted that in the statewide ballot question in November 2020 on whether or not to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in New Jersey, more than two-thirds of Highland Park residents voted ‘Yes.’
In preparation for the vote to allow cannabis sales in Highland Park, the mayor and council consulted with the police department, the public schools, and the borough’s social worker. The Highland Park Public Schools have planned a comprehensive program to discourage children from experimenting with cannabis, a program similar to the one the schools have employed for years that has successfully discouraged drinking and driving by teens. The borough’s social worker has developed a set of guidelines for parents on how to talk with their children about the dangers to school age children of cannabis use. These guidelines will soon be available to all residents.
“The measure has an important social justice, as well as economic, benefit,” said Councilman Matthew Hersh. “It has the potential to boost our downtown, at the same time retailers are working closely with municipal officials to improve the viability of the downtown. Highland Park has a new redevelopment plan, along with an energized effort to restore post-COVID activies in the Central Business District and to improve the appearance of the retail stores. It is also essential to recognize the fact that it complies with New Jersey State law legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over.”
The state law prioritizes licenses for dispensaries to go to ethnic and gender minorities, and it has ceased arrests for marijuana possession of amounts up to six ounces.