The Hopewell Borough Council introduced and voted to adopt a new version of its cannabis ordinance at its meeting on September 8 after hearing from several citizens during the public hearing. The Council also heard concerns about a shortage of volunteers for Hopewell Fire Department and EMS.
The new version of the cannabis ordinance will allow one license for a cannabis retailer in the business-residential or service zone and unlimited licenses for cannabis delivery in the service zone. All applicants must meet the standards of a Council-created checklist.
While one local resident disagreed with the proposed ordinance, most residents in attendance lent their support to welcoming cannabis businesses in the Borough.
Hopewell resident Nancy Kennedy expressed concerns that allowing cannabis sales in Hopewell would cause more strain on EMS services. She said that her husband has already seen an increase in cannabis related calls as an ambulance driver. She said that the two percent sales tax that the Borough gained from cannabis sales would be canceled out by the cost of increased services.
Mayor Paul Anzano said the Council has never discussed the ordinance from the standpoint of monetary benefit.
“What is the reason then?” asked Kennedy.
“It’s a legal commodity, the same as a liquor store or restaurant,” answered Councilmember Debra Stuhler.
Kennedy said she had no doubt that it will make it more accessible to youth who often have friends over the age of 21 willing to make the purchases for them. She stated that it was available on Route 31, so there is no reason to bring it into the Borough.
Heidi Wilenius, local resident and owner of Dandelion Wishes, said that she supported the ordinance, noting the high percentage of votes for State legalization when it was on the ballot. She said that cannabis was highly regulated and legal, and that it could bring traffic that would help other businesses in town.
Mayor Anzano said, “Economic studies show that for every dollar spent on cannabis, ten dollars is spent at nearby businesses.”
Jon McConaughy, local resident and owner of Double Brook Farm, said that it was important to keep big franchise cannabis out of the Borough, so making the process selective was important. He said the businesses in Hopewell cannot survive with only the Borough buying products. Customers coming into town to buy cannabis will benefit other businesses.
Anzano said, “I visited a facility on Route 1. I was confronted and ID’ed by security in the parking lot, and then ID’ed again inside. I told them why I was there. It was probably more secure than a jewelry store.”
Jenn Curtis, local resident, said that a retailer in Hopewell would look more like cannabis shops in small towns in Massachusetts that are similar to beautiful coffee houses with artisan products than the business on Route 1. She agreed with other speakers that a cannabis retailer would be good for other businesses in town.
John Bunting, local resident, said that he has worked at Breakwater, a medical dispensary in Cranbury, since its inception, and that legal cannabis sales reduce the stress on EMS services by reducing the number of laced cannabis overdoses. Cannabis sold legally is highly regulated and doesn’t contain the pesticides or herbicides found in cannabis sold on the streets. He said that when Washington State legalized cannabis, studies showed usage among high school students actually dropped.
Luke Morehouse, EMS Second Lieutenant in Hopewell, said, “When we think of a heroin overdose, we think of a physical repression of breathing. An overdose of cannabis doesn’t look like that. Heroin can be fatal. Real fears [with cannabis] are users driving under the influence–not reefer madness. From an EMS perspective, I’d take a cannabis patient over a drunk patient 100 out of 100 times.”
Morehouse said that he was not taking a stance on whether cannabis businesses should be permitted to operate in the Borough, but he wanted to make sure everyone understood the language being used when speaking about cannabis overdoses.
David Mackie, Councilmember, said, “The criteria has to be crafted very carefully so we can say ‘no’ to applicants if they don’t fit the criteria.”
Michele Hovan, Hopewell Borough Administrator, said, “call for applications, announce you’re accepting, and have one available endorsement open for that.”
Anzano said, “If the application is too unappealing and no one wants to touch it, that’s life.”
Sky Morehouse, Council President, spoke about the challenges of finding daytime volunteers at Hopewell Fire and EMS. He said that the volunteer service in Hopewell Borough was remarkably valuable providing on-call, 24-hour service at an operating cost of around t$10,000 per year. He said that if too few volunteers are available for the EMS, the Borough would have to pay a cost of at least $250K out of pocket to contract paid EMS from a hospital.
Luke Morehouse said of being on the Hopewell EMS, “I’m not anyone special. I’m a husband with two kids. Say yes, and help your community.”
Luke Morehouse added that uniforms, boots, and training are all provided by the department, and that anyone interested should come by the station on Tuesday nights. All parts of the fire station are accepting volunteers, including people who can do administrative work, fundraising, ladies auxiliary, and youth cadets (ages 14 to 18).
Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
Anne Hayton, member of the Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Safety Advisory Committee, spoke about their updated report available on the Borough website.
“We added specific recommendations for West Broad Street using a complete streets approach. Our next focus is Hart Avenue, as we understand the road may be repaved in the upcoming year,” said Hayton.
Anzano said the suggestions in the report would take time to implement as the Borough did not control all of the roads listed and each municipality would have to plug the cost into their budget and look at funding and priorities.
Hayton countered that many resources, like state and federal grants, were available to make the recommendations a reality. She said that the changes could take place in the coming months and not three years from now.
Anzano responded, “We’re on the same page.”
“We prioritized Broad because of the great opportunity to make changes during the repaving,” said Hayton.
The Council also adopted a revision to the Economic Development Plan and adopted a bond ordinance for a storm chamber on Maple Street. Hovan said that 90% of the storm chamber project will be reimbursed after working on obtaining grants for the past year, and that the design and construction phase of the project can now begin.
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