Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Blairstown Debates Whether to Puff-Puff-Pass on Cannabis Sales

Nature’s Harvest CBD product display. Photo by Alexa Tironi, 10/2023

If you’ve driven down Route 94 through downtown Blairstown lately perhaps you’ve noticed the colorfully decorated van sitting in front of the vacant building adjacent to Dale’s Market. Sporting a smiling cannabis leaf and a groovy mushroom smoking what appears to be a blunt dancing across a tie-dye background, the Legally Lit van heralds the arrival of a new cannabidiol store.

Serving as a new location for current retailers CBD Newton, the shop isn’t currently open to the public, but did have a pop-up tent in full swing during this month’s Friday the 13th township celebrations. CBD Newton has three other locations: Newton, Sussex Borough and Rockaway, all of which offer THC products as well as CBD commodities.

These “Legally Lit” graphics and titles may, however, be misleading regarding their Blairstown location. CBD Newton cannot sell any hallucinogenic drugs or drug paraphernalia, only CBD products which according to health experts, do not cause a “high.”

Under Blairstown code section 19-106 Prohibited Uses, all classes of cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors or cannabis delivery services are forbidden of operation in the township.

Nature’s Harvest, Blairstown’s health food store on Main Street, already sells a small variety of CBD products. They are kept in a locked case at the register.

The Blairstown Township Committee opted-out of cannabis sales in response to the 2021 New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act. All six cannabis marketplace classes are prohibited in Blairstown: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.

The ordinance passed to add cannabis to Blairstown’s prohibited uses states that it is “in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of Blairstown’s residents and members of the public who visit, travel or conduct business in the township to amend Blairstown’s zoning regulations to prohibit all manner of marijuana-related land use and development.”

New Jersey municipalities were given 180 days to either opt in or out to new cannabis regulations. If that time period lapsed without prohibition, cannabis sales would be legal for five years before the decision could be revisited. By that time any existing establishments would remain legal, grandfathered into any new regulations.

Legal counsel to the township suggested, “the most prudent course of action for all municipalities, whether or not generally in favor of cannabis or medical cannabis land development and uses, would be to prohibit all such uses within the Act’s 180-day period in order to ensure sufficient time to carefully review all aspects of the Act and its impact.”

This piece of Blairstown legislation has not changed; however, it remains controversial. At the June Blairstown Township Committee meeting, during his end-of-meeting reports, committee member Charlie Makatura asked Blairstown residents to consider the assets and liabilities of allowing cannabis sales in the community, suggesting there could be economic incentive.

“All the municipalities around us are opting in. It’s 2% of the growth sales revenue. This is something I need the public to think about because why would we let everyone else tap into this— we have liquor stores, it’s the same thing. I’m not saying pro or con, I’m just asking the public to think about it because I think that’s going to be the future.”

According to the USA Today Network analysis of municipal ordinances, Frelinghuysen, Fredon, Oxford, Belvidere and Harmony Township have all approved nonretail cannabis businesses. Andover, Newton and Hackettstown allow retail cannabis businesses, while Knowlton Township approved medical marijuana businesses.

Stillwater, Hardwick, Hope, Liberty, Independence, Allamuchy, White and Washington townships have all opted out.

In February of 2022, Peter Venturi, owner of Blairstown Country Florist and Gift Shop, visited a Blairstown Township Committee meeting and asked the township to change their decision on cannabis, citing the evolvement of marijuana research and purported health benefits. Township attorney Kevin Benbrook restated the township’s decision and suggested Venturi appear before the land use board with his proposal.

Blairstown resident and retired Randolph High School wrestling coach and physical education teacher, Mike Suk, reached out to the “Ridge View Echo” to share his concerns with CBD Newton joining Blairstown business owners.

In an email to the publication, Suk wrote, “As an educator and coach of 37 years of young adults, I am definitely disappointed and concerned that type of store is going to be front and center as you enter town and as you exit, for all the students riding up and down 94 in the bus or in the car to and from school to see every day.”

He adds, “With all the research being done on the effects of marijuana, I can’t help but think that selling that type of product is not a thing that we want our children to be exposed to and normalized.”

Suk states he has seen what drugs and alcohol do to young people.

“We know the risk to marijuana— issues with attention, concentration, problem-solving, learning and memory, as well as a lack of balance and coordination, poor judgment, decision making and poor performance.”

THC vs. CBD

The cannabis plant has two species: marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains high levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which binds with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. The CB1 receptors in the brain then release neurotransmitters creating a psychedelic state known as the “high.”

Marijuana products have been reported to help with chronic pain, inflammation and mood elevating; however, no federal standards have been adopted relating to the quality and safety of THC products.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2019 more than 48 million people used marijuana for pain management. The organization also reported an estimated 30% of users struggle with marijuana use disorder, leveling against the common misconception that the drug is entirely non-habit forming.

CBD, or cannabidiol, products typically derived from hemp contain less than 0.3% of THC traces. It will not get you high, but it does elicit a feeling of relaxation or the easement of pain.

The 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act rescinded hemp’s classification as a federally controlled substance, making CBD products derived entirely from hemp legal in the United States. Some medication containing purified CBD has been certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The CDC reports that CBD products could cause liver damage and may negatively interact with other prescribed medication.

The Facebook Conversation

The “Goings On in the Blairstown Area” Facebook page facilitated a lively debate on cannabis use and its potential place in the township.

The conversation began on September 8th when Facebook user Laura Ann posted into the group, “What’s up with the weed truck in town near Dale’s? Are we getting a dispensary?!”

George Decker replied, “What a shame, we prey on the weakest among us for profit, apparently no one here has ever watched someone they love go through addiction, unfortunately I have, and it all started with smoking a little weed, I smoke marijuana myself, fortunately I survived.”

Nina Chianetta De Santo replied with some clarification and support, “This is not a cannabis dispensary. They sell CBD products which are derived from hemp. It has immense medicinal qualities. I know some find it hard to comprehend, but both CBD and THC products, high and low, have helped so many people off opioids, help with pain, anxiety, seizures and illnesses. We need to step away from the ‘reefer madness’ mindset.”

Raymond Ayers added, “The world was a better place when people tended to their own gardens. I’d be more concerned about the mini mart selling vapes to minors, but oh god the kids might see this van.”

One hundred and fifty comments later, original poster Laura Ann closed the chat.

Ultimately, the legality of cannabis sales in Blairstown is left entirely to the township committee. Local residents can continue to share their opinions on the presence of marijuana in the community by reaching out to Blairstown Township Committee members and participating in the public comment portion of meetings— the next of which is set to take place on November 22nd.

Alex Tironi Headshot
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.