What Does Legalized Marijuana in NJ Mean for Westfield?

WESTFIELD, NJ — Just as vote tallies across New Jersey showed a clear decision statewide in the referendum on legalizing marijuana, they also indicated a difference of opinion in Westfield — even with counties still receiving mail-in ballots until next Tuesday, prior to counting paper ballots cast at the polls.

In Westfield, 7,143 voters answered “yes” to the question of legalizing marijuana, while 9,915 people did not favor legalization, according to the Union County Clerk’s Office tallies updated on Friday.  Westfield’s 42% vote in favor of legalization marks a contrast to the 68.3% majority of voters who approved legal marijuana across Union County.

Mayor Shelley Brindle said she was taking a wait-and-see approach, pending the state Legislature’s anticipated action setting forth a roadmap for legal cannabis in New Jersey.

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“The devil’s in the details. Until you see what the benefit is, what the opportunity is, it’s really hard to make a determination as to what’s in the best interest of our community,” said Brindle, who also told TAPinto Westfield that the municipality would seek public input before deciding on the matter.

A bill, S-2703, considered by the state Legislature last year, would have provided New Jersey towns the ability to opt out of allowing for marijuana sales, Brindle noted.

That bill would also have allowed municipalities to enact a local tax on recreational pot of 2% on growers and processors, 1% on wholesalers and 3% on retailers on the receipts from each sale, according to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, which had not taken a stance for or against legalization.

The League’s analysis of the 2019 bill says that municipalities would also have been able to enact regulations governing the time of operation, the location, manner and number of cannabis establishments permitted within their borders.

In neighboring Garwood, where a majority of voters favored legal cannabis, Mayor Sara Todisco said she anticipates the subject of legalizing marijuana sales within the borough’s borders would be “a major topic of discussion” for both herself and the council.

The preliminary vote tallies show 861 voters in Garwood saying “yes” to legal marijuana and 438 answering “no” to the ballot question. Todisco said she hopes that municipalities could get more out of legal pot than state legislators had initially proposed.

“My hope as a mayor is that towns get a greater percentage of revenue than what has been proposed by state leaders, which is in line with what other local officials have been saying as put forth by the League of Municipalities,” Todisco said.

The referendum on marijuana is not the first time municipal officials in Westfield have broached the topic. In 2014, the town council approved approved zoning that would allow for the establishment of “an alternative treatment center” or medical marijuana dispensary in the town’s C zone district, which borders Garwood.

And while no such treatment center has been built in Westfield, in nearby Scotch Plains the township council has approved applications for two medical marijuana dispensaries. Voters in Scotch Plains favored legalized marijuana with 5,645 for and 2,232 against, the preliminary tallies show.

The local officials’ comments on legalized pot came on the same day Gov. Phil Murphy announced his appointments to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission and at a livestreamed press conference said that it had cost New Jersey taxpayers $150 million annually to process marijuana arrests.

“We now join the growing number of states that have come to the rightful conclusion that our marijuana laws have done more harm than good, have ruined more futures than they had helped and hurt many communities by saddling Black and brown people — predominantly young men — with an arrest and host of collateral consequences for nonviolent offenses,” Murphy said.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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