In March or April of 2022, the Princeton town council and mayor will take a vote on whether to open up to 3 recreational marijuana retail stores in Princeton, located as near as 200 feet of schools. Once a dispensary is open, there is no provision to remove it. Therefore, it is critical that the decision to opt-in not be made in haste. This has a major impact on our community and requires time for the community to understand, respond. Strong community feedback can affect how the council votes.
The dispensaries are only for people 21+, but marijuana being legally sold in our town will make it more readily available to minors. Specific legislative requirements aimed at thwarting underage use, such as packaging and labeling controls as well as controls on targeted advertising to minors may slow down attracting children to the products, but will never prevent underage usage. The law additionally creates an inability for the police to stop, arrest, or do anything if a legal adult is found selling to those underage, as it’s become taboo for an officer to get involved with marijuana activity. Additionally, if a police officer sees an underage person engaging in obtaining or using marijuana, the law even so much as prevents police from telling a parent that their child was found with pot, which makes it impossible for law enforcement to play any role in preventing underage usage. Princeton is a town with at least 17 schools, bringing thousands of minors here on a daily basis. Parents choose Princeton because they trust their children are safe here. We must ensure that. Study after reputable study shows that marijuana is a danger to the developing brain. The CDC posts on its website many of the dangerous effects, including short-term use having an "immediate impact on thinking, attention, memory, coordination, movement, and time perception” in youth and adults. Long-term, it states, "Using marijuana before age 18 may affect how the brain builds connections for functions like attention, memory, and learning. Marijuana’s effects on attention, memory, and learning may last a long time or even be permanent." The National Academy of Medicine convened a study with 16 top medical experts, which details that even though cannabis is getting legalized more and more, "Unlike other controlled substances such as alcohol or tobacco, no accepted standards for safe use or appropriate dose are available to help guide individuals as they make choices regarding the issues of if, when, where, and how to use cannabis safely.” There remains so much unknown about cannabis, that is is naive to think making it readily available, and therefore more accessible to minors, is not putting them at risk. Marijuana is a drug that is very easy to blend and make unrecognizable. Pot brownies, marijuana gummies and more sold at dispensaries make this a drug that children may not even know they are taking and could easily be passed along to underage people without anyone noticing.
If children don’t sway you, what about other sectors of our population such as pregnant or breast-feeding woman, seniors, heavy users? As explained above, there is no concrete evidence on how much becomes too much, what dose is safe, or what format is the safest. How much THC is best? What is the right balance of cannabis to other ingredients? Nobody knows, and there are no guidelines. You are putting many parts of our population at risk by making it readily available in our town. In September, the CDC issued a warning about cannabis products containing Delta 8 TCH causing adverse affects in people. The lack of research-based guidelines on doses, ingredients balance and the like make it irresponsible to sell in our town. In addition, stating it’s essential cannabis retailers are open 9am-10pm, 7 days a week to "make cannabis retail available to those whose work shifts occur at different times throughout the day,” as cited in the report, is beyond the hours of most stores in town. Is it that essential to be able to get high at any moment you want? You can’t think ahead and purchase in advance? Statements such as these in the report emphasize that the ability to get high is the primary goal of the dispensaries, and we must put peoples health and safety first.
There is a recommendation in the report that dispensaries should be allowed as close as 200 feet of schools (while the BOE strongly supports the Federal Drug Free Zone restriction of 1,000 feet) and the report includes no specific zoning requirements pertaining to proximity of cannabis retailers to churches, parks or playgrounds. Most of the proposed commercial districts would mean putting a dispensary in an area where kids/families gather, eat and shop. Even if you can argue that retail cannabis dispensaries are not intended for those under age 21, it is irresponsible not to at least ensure safeguards to protect minors. The Federal Drug Free Zone restriction of 1,000 feet should, at a minimum, be enforced and should also be applied to churches, parks and playgrounds. CTF argues there is no reasoning for mandating a greater distance for cannabis dispensaries than is required of liquor stores, but the Federal law still finds marijuana use illegal for all. That, in itself, differentiates it from alcohol. A 200 ft buffer is closer, by 300 ft or greater, than any other municipality mentioned in the report. Placement near our schools is NOT where Princeton needs to be known as a trendsetter. In addition, the report suggests 3 dispensaries in 3 different parts of town - as a means of being equitable. Really? Spreading dispensaries all over town is now needed to ensure equity - if that’s the barometer, how come there’s only one toy store in town? Shouldn’t kids have easy access to their play things, too?
Up to 2% tax revenue is legally allowed for Cannabis dispensary sales. What should those proceeds support? The report recommends the 2% tax proceeds should go primarily towards racial equity/social justice causes to make amends for the effects of the War on Drugs and of institutional racism, however there is no mention of the revenue staying local to our community, no written articulation of what these programs would be, or means to accomplish the vague objectives. Additionally, CTF did not receive much input from the minority communities it claims to be benefitting. Do they want those amends to be related to drugs, to making those drugs easily accessible in our town and to include the hiring of previous convicts? Princeton’s Board of Education has requested that if dispensaries open, tax proceeds be directed to Princeton Public Schools to defray education and training costs associated with cannabis legalization. Or should any tax revenue be used to offset Princeton taxpayers? Does such minimal revenue even benefit more than it could harm? It's questionable having local cannabis dispensaries will still be a financially positive for Princeton after factoring in the additional costs of law enforcement, education and social services.
Residents must speak out to ensure Council knows the Cannabis Task Force report does not represent our community. On November 30th Princeton’s Cannabis Task Force (CTF) presented Princeton Council with its report. After immediate pushback by the public and in spite of desires outlined in a position statement from the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (read the BoE statement here), a quorum of Cannabis Task Force members, including 3 Town Council members, confirmed on December 16th they will NOT consider adjusting their report recommending recreational cannabis dispensaries.
We believe this to be an unbalanced compilation of data and ideas. Why do we think this?
It is clear not all interests were present at the table. You will note the remarkable imbalance of pro-cannabis voices serving on the committee. We were told by Eve Neidergang, Councilmember and Chair of CTF, that certain members of our community were invited to join the committee but never or rarely came. If I invite you to the table and believe your input is essential to my decision, but you are unable to show up, I should insist you come to the table, find a way to include your perspective or refuse to move forward without another representative. Simply saying “I invited them” but not insisting they be present for the conversation is NOT having a balanced conversation. Saying you invited them isn’t an excuse if you expect people to consider your report balanced and trustworthy.
Additionally, the report is lacking in real data to support its claims. For example, it cites just one medical report to support its claim that underage usage isn’t a concern. And, that one report is with regards to medical marijuana - which is not the current discussion. They have zero reports backing up this claim as it pertains to recreational marijuana. When it comes to crime, the report says they reviewed studies about crime increases near dispensaries, but cites none. We’re just supposed to take their word? And again, as it relates to crime, the report shares medical marijuana dispensary comparisons - which is a different animal than retail dispensaries open to all adults. This report does not discuss harms, costs, risks or mitigation strategies.