Most elected officials indifferent to pot shops in Belleville; Does proposed state law allow municipalities to bow out of such sales?

Don’t look for the Township of Belleville to be mounting any crusades against any businesses dispensing adult recreational marijuana that may be looking to set up shop there.

It’s not that local officials are pumped up about the prospect, though. More that, for the most part, they’re indifferent.

At the last meeting of the governing body Nov. 27, township resident Filomena Frantantoni asked if any member would introduce an ordinance proposing to ban such enterprises in Belleville.

At prior sessions, Frantantoni has spoken about relatives who, after experimenting with marijuana, advanced to stronger drugs and subsequently overdosed, so she is opposed to the state’s current move to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana.

But Councilman Steven Rovell responded that even if Belleville were to adopt a law forbidding those types of enterprises in the township, it would be a futile gesture.

“If the state does something [to clear the way for legal use and sale of the substance], our ordinance gets cast aside,” Rovell said.

For that reason, Rovell said, “trying to supercede the state is something we can’t do [because] it’s all going to be thrown out.”

A tentative note of dissent came from Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke who suggested that, nonetheless, “we should take a stand” on the issue, meaning to oppose the state’s plan.

However, she got no takers.

Later, Frantantoni said she has gotten information from the legislative office of State Sen. Ronald Rice, whose district includes Belleville, that even if the state adopts the proposed marijuana law, there is nothing stopping municipalities from taking steps to stop businesses from springing up there.

Rice, a former law enforcement officer, has made known his opposition to the bill now under consideration by state lawmakers.

The Observer tried asking the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General if the point made by Rovell had any substance to it but was told by office spokesman Leland Moore that the AG would “not comment.”

So, as a next step, The Observer called The New Jersey State League of Municipalities, whose staff counsel Frank Marshall said that the current legislative draft does contain a provision permitting municipalities to “opt out” of the opportunity of hosting a cannabis-related business for a five-year period.

Based on her research, Frantantoni said she’s discovered that, so far, 21 municipalities in the Garden State have passed laws against tolerating locally operating cannabis-related enterprises.

Among those closest to The Observer territory are Garfield, East Rutherford, Clifton, Carlstadt, Mahwah, Wayne, Lodi and Palisades Park. The Township of Lyndhurst has introduced an amendment to its zoning ordinance that would ban the operation of marijuana-related enterprises that would have to be approved by the Bergen County Planning Board.

As of last week, the League has not taken a position on the proposed legislation which appears, for now, to be focused on communities with populations of 120,000 or more or those with a certain percentage of marijuana-related arrests as primary “impact zones” for the proposed new businesses.

That draft also calls for the state to get a 12% retail tax and municipalities to receive a 2% excise tax from such businesses.

The State Legislature could act by mid-December to take a floor vote on the final version of the bill which would then go to the governor – who favors legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use and sale – for his signature.






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