This week the recreational marijuana community celebrated “4/20” and we have yet to hear anything from the mayor’s Cannabis Commission. What should have been a slam-dunk opportunity for this administration to show some leadership and protect Westfield’s families by preventing a marijuana dispensary from opening in town is now dragging into its second month without a single public hearing.
I recently wrote to this publication regarding this issue and, although I used humor in that piece, I am very serious about dispensaries. Among my many responsibilities while an FBI agent was enforcing Federal narcotic statutes, and I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that dangerous drugs have had on our communities.
While New Jersey has chosen to legalize marijuana, it is still considered a Schedule I narcotic by the Federal government. This presents several challenges locally—chief among them is how to handle the proceeds of drug transactions. Dispensary owners have their own hurdles but, if towns collect taxes from what is still considered federally as illicit drug trafficking, then Westfield is assuming significant liabilities and passing those on to taxpayers.
Some also equate the recent legalization of marijuana to alcohol, which has been legal in New Jersey and the United States since the repeal of Prohibition. While only 30 of NJ’s 566 municipalities prohibit the sale of alcohol, at least 70 municipalities took action prior to legalization to prohibit marijuana sales in their towns. Newly-enacted legalization provides local governments with an opt-out clause specifically for that purpose. I imagine many (if not all) of these towns will do so again and will now likely be joined by many others who do not want these sales to take place within their borders.
Despite the creation of the Cannabis Commission, this administration has already heard from residents on this issue. According to the much-touted Master Plan Reexamination Survey, over 57% of residents disapproved of marijuana retail businesses in Westfield, as compared to 21% who approved. This same survey has been used by the mayor to push other initiatives, including involuntary historic preservation and massive, no-bid redevelopment downtown. Marijuana dispensaries are not the answer to the question of downtown vacancies and if these are the types of businesses Town Hall and DWC seek to attract, then perhaps it’s time for new leadership at both.
While the Cannabis Commission conducts its business in secret and the mayor ignores the will of the people, Westfield’s public safety, health and welfare hang in the balance. It’s time to make the decision that’s in the best interest of our citizens: No marijuana dispensaries in Westfield!
Candidate for Westfield Town Council — Third Ward