NJ: Garfield Could Be First Bergen County Town To Ban Marijuana Sales

Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press

One week before Phil Murphy is to be sworn in as governor, the City Council has started taking steps to ban marijuana sales in Garfield.

With Murphy promising to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in office, the council decided Tuesday night to introduce an ordinance prohibiting the sale of the drug within town limits. If approved, Garfield would be the first town in Bergen County to do so, according to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

“This is the first steps by the council in notifying the residents that they’re upset by the action of the state and don’t want it sold in the city,” City Attorney Chris Ditkas said.

“Depending on what Trenton does, we may have to modify the ordinance, but the council wanted everyone to know now this is a hard stance on the sale of marijuana in Garfield.”

Marijuana retail stores could lead to increased traffic, and quality of life issues such as odor and panhandling, council members said Tuesday.

While he personally does not oppose legalization and believes it has worked well in other states, Deputy Mayor Joseph Delaney said a small city like Garfield is not the right location for a dispensary.

The council has already restricted tobacco smoke shops to a portion of Route 46 and taken steps to limit liquor licenses, Delaney said.

“We’re gearing more towards restaurants and family-oriented businesses in the city,” he said. “Selling marijuana wouldn’t be the right fit.”

If Murphy gets his wish, New Jersey would be the 10th state in the country to legalize marijuana. Proponents argue that it could bring in as much as $1 billion in revenue annually and help regulate use of the drug.

However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo last week rolling back Obama-era policies stating federal prosecutors wouldn’t interfere with state laws allowing people to use marijuana for medical and recreational uses. Advocates for legalized marijuana have reacted with dismay to the news.

“Everyone thinks this is happening right away, but now with the federal government weighing in, it may take some time,” Mayor Richard Rigoglioso said.

Nonetheless, Rigoglioso says the city needs to be proactive, in the event the drug is legalized.

“I don’t want it anywhere in Garfield,” he said. “I don’t see the purpose of it. I know people don’t agree but I still believe it’s a gateway to other drugs.”

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, 176 of the state’s 272 municipalities chose not to allow retail sales, said Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League.

For those towns that have permitted shops, Bommer said some have reported increased traffic around stores, an uptick in crime due to shop burglaries, and odor issues.

Two Shore towns – Point Pleasant Beach and Berkeley Township – have also moved to ban the sale of marijuana. In Monmouth County, the Shrewsbury Borough Council voted last year to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Asbury Park and Jersey City officials, meanwhile, have expressed support for allowing marijuana dispensaries in their towns.

Most other towns are still discussing the issue and waiting to see what the state does next, said Michael Cerra, assistant executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.