VERNON — The Township Council is expected to take a final vote on an ordinance Monday that allows for the growing and processing of cannabis, but no retail operations.
Prior to the public hearing, the Council will discuss possibly amending the retail prohibition to allow for retail stores outside the town center, said Mayor Howard Burrell.
If the growing and processing ordinance is approved, Vernon will join ahandful of Sussex County municipalities that will allow those operations.
Lafayette last year approved construction of a medical marijuana facility just off Route 94, and in June, Newton approved zoning changes that will allow, with restrictions, growing, processing and wholesale operating of cannabis.
Newton also approved retail sales, with strong restrictions as to location and operations and next month is scheduled to vote on imposing a 1%-2% tax on each stage of operations from growing to retail sales.
Last November voters approved a state constitutional amendment to allow growing and sales of marijuana and related products to adults. That law set up a half-dozen types of state-issued licenses for various stages of operations, from growing the cannabis plants to retail shops to sell to the general public.
The state Legislature set a deadline of 180 days after approval of the new law, for municipalities to act on allowing or prohibiting cannabis businesses within their jurisdictions. If a governing body does not act before the Aug. 21 deadline, sales will be allowed and the municipality will be prohibited from any control for five years.
As a result, most local governing bodies in the state and Sussex County have voted "no," to preserve their right to revisit the denial within that five-year window should an offer come along.
Ron Tappan, the administrator in Hopatcong Borough, said the council there has voted "no" but with the intent for further study. "We have formed a committee to look at this," he said of the council's action. "We want time to get our arms around it."
The same is true in Sandyston where Municipal Clerk Amy Lobban said the Township Committee wants to review all options.
"We're a small town, so likely nobody wants a retail operation here," she said, but then explained that being a small town with lots of undeveloped land, there may be wholesale operations interested.
The law even created a license, granted by the state and not subject to local control, which allows for home delivery of marijuana products directly to consumers.
The same is true in Wantage where Administrator Mike Restel said the committee banned all operations with the intent to preserve its right.
"The state hasn't even come out with its own set of regulations," he said. "The committee wants to wait and see what those regulations will be.
Several other towns are in the process of banning marijuana operations. In New Jersey, a governing body introduces an ordinance then has to wait, usually until its next meeting, before holding a public hearing and second, final vote on the ordinance.
That public hearing and second vote is set for a Tuesday meeting in Sussex Borough. The Township Committee in Fredon will have a second vote at its Aug. 12 meeting while Andover Township's second vote will be on Aug. 19.
Other municipalities such as Hardyston, Sparta, Stanhope, Frankford and Byram had their second hearings earlier this year and voted "no."
In Franklin Borough, which has an existing medical marijuana-growing operation in town, the council voted against allowing any retail-related operations in the borough.
Newton Town Council approved zoning changes which would allow retail and wholesale operations within the town, but also set up stringent conditions as to where those operations can exist.
As an example, retail stores - which can't have signs saying there is marijuana or cannabis for sale - can only be in storefronts on Mill or Water Streets, must have separate entrances and limits on the number of customers inside at any one time.
There can't be anybody waiting in the parking lot, except in a parked vehicle, and the shop must have a system to notify customers when their turn arrives to enter the store.
The council is also scheduled to have a hearing at its August meeting on putting in place the maximum allowed sales tax on both wholesale and retail transactions.
According to Burrell, the vote by the Vernon council on Monday is likely to be 3-2 in favor of allowing cannabis operations in town. The pending ordinance does not allow for retail shops.
But he said there was a 70% plurality of town voters approving the legalization of marijuana sales in last November's referendum and he believes the compromise amendment to allow sales could pass at a future council meeting.
"The state is issuing the licenses and the conditions are pretty stiff," he said, noting that retail stores would be like expensive boutiques.
He also explained that the township has no control over delivery services, which will be allowed to enter any town in the state.
"As a society, we are moving to on-line shopping, even for things like food and medicine," he said. "The state is allowing deliverers to deliver it."