Township Committee approves zoning areas for cannabis cultivation and manufacturing

The Hopewell Township Committee held its bi-monthly meeting on Monday, September 13. The Committee voted unanimously to approve the newest cannabis ordinance after hearing public comments and questions. 

During the August meeting, the Township Committee had approved an ordinance opting out entirely of allowing any cannabis industry to operate in the Township. This was to meet the State-designated deadline on August 21. The Committee presented a new ordinance at this meeting, however, to allow a very restricted zone in the Township in which a resident could apply to operate a cannabis cultivation/manufacturing business.  

Mayor Julie Blake explained that it had come to the attention of Township Committee members and staff that the State was putting a short time limit on accepting applications for the most lucrative (to the Township) cultivation license. “We thought it was worth exploring when we saw that the licenses that are going to be given out will probably not be available to us after this year,” she said.

Blake explained that there are only about 12 to 15 “macro” cultivation licenses available to farmers all across New Jersey. “There is a major part of farming here, but there’s a lot of standards and regulations that wouldn’t normally apply to farming land.” If a licensee is approved, the Township will be able to collect a two percent tax on the receipts of each sale. In a large cannabis operation, this could mean a windfall of many thousands of dollars for the Township.

The Township’s new ordinance requires that applicant locations must be located within two miles of an interstate 295 interchange, on a State or County road, and on a lot of at least 50 acres. Those who wish to apply also need a letter of affidavit from appropriate municipality officials to confirm local zoning requirements and submission of proof of local support for the suitability of the location.

 “That gives a lot of power to the Hopewell Township Committee, which means that if there are multiple applications, and we designate that we have certain values or criteria…we actually can select of those if there are multiple applications. I don’t think in a realistic world that there will be multiple applications. I think we would be lucky as a town to get any,” Blake said. These requirements are in addition to the vast amount of environmental requirements necessary for building a greenhouse in which the cannabis would be grown

Residents brought concerns that varied greatly from the two-mile radius requirement, racial equity, and how those who don’t own 50 acres can get into this industry. One of the first issues residents brought up was the two-mile radius decision. The radius includes parts of Scotch Road and Pennington Road in the southern area of Hopewell Township.

 “I just want to know why two miles,” asked John Hart, a Township farmer, businessman and former Township mayor, and Committee member. “Two miles only encompass like three farms. Not even that, so I think it should be changed to the whole Township because there might be areas far enough away that aren’t near any heavy [density] residents” Hart also indicated that he had conducted his own research and that it was his understanding that concerns other some residents brought up, such as tractor-trailer traffic and odor from manufacturing, would not be problems in the Township.

Blake explained the two-mile radius was set up by Township Planner Frank Banisch, who was not at the meeting and unable to comment. “That being said, if people feel differently about it, we can go back and change it,” Blake said. “We want to start slow. And then if the applicants are asking for something different, we’ll go that direction.” As discussed during the August Committee meetings, the State’s requirement to make a decision by August 21 means that having opted out entirely, municipalities may opt back in any time they want. There are currently seven lots in the two-mile radius that are eligible for these licenses.

When residents brought up that this ordinance only allows for wealthy owners of large parcels, Blake explained that part of the reason the State is pushing for cannabis is to right some of the wrongs done during the “War on Drugs” period.  “I believe the reason that why we have this cannabis statute in this State is because people saw this as a way to remedy so many of the wrongs that happened from the war on drugs on people of color,” Blake explained. 

Tomia MacQueen, a Township resident and farmer, explained that the ordinance parameters and laws, in general, make it increasingly difficult for the demographics it claims to help. “The parameters of being two miles from the freeway, the 50-acre requirement, which has a very high socio-economic bracket that most can’t afford that in this county.  How is it that this is correcting any wrongs, that were brought by the war on drugs if the people who were most impacted cannot afford that land?” MacQueen asked.  

Those who don’t have 50 acres or not in the two-mile radius can look into acquiring a micro license, which would be approval for a significantly smaller operation. Blake explained that due to the tight timeline for the macro licenses, the Committee concentrated on those first. Micro licenses will be looked at by the Township later on down the road, “Now, it is important for everyone to know that if you are interested in applying, there will be micro licenses that will be given by the State,” Blake said. “We weren’t designing for that [in approving the current ordinance under consideration]. The reason is those micro licenses can happen continuously after this next cycle for the larger applications. Those micro licenses do not have a deadline.”

The Committee unanimously approved the ordinance to allow those eligible to apply to the State for a license. The State Cannabis Regulatory Commission is expected to start collecting applications in the near future. To read the full ordinance or for more information, go to this link.

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