Council approves retail cannabis businesses in Metuchen, sets restrictions

Nov. 1, 2022: The weed store will be coming to Metuchen. 

But don’t expect stoners hanging out getting high on every corner, and long lines of crazed hippies lining Main Street. 

Borough Council passed an ordinance, after a public hearing Oct. 24, allowing for wholesale and retail cannabis businesses in Metuchen. The decision came after Council last year essentially put a decision on hold allowing retail cannabis businesses in the borough pending further study of the issue. 

Metuchen’s decision comes in the wake of a ballot question in 2020 in which around 70 percent of borough voters approved legalizing recreational cannabis. State-wide, around 67 percent of voters approved such use. The state legislature in early 2021 legalized recreational cannabis use, and then gave municipalities a deadline to figure out what kinds of cannabis businesses would be allowed within their borders. 

Metuchen’s plan was borne out of this process. Council approved issuing two wholesale, and three retail licenses for the borough. This is apparently less than other municipalities in New Jersey that have issued similar ordinances, some of which have no limit on the number of licenses, according to Council President Jason Delia, who made a presentation of the borough’s plan, at the meeting. 

Other cannabis business uses are prohibited, including delivery businesses (though resident consumers can still have cannabis delivered to their homes), cultivators, manufacturers and distributors. 

The ordinance grants the licenses on “conditional” use, meaning when a business applies for one of the licenses, it will have to go before the planning commission, neighbors will be notified and will be subject to a public hearing. “We wanted to make sure the public had plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the potential new cannabis businesses,” Delia said. 

The wholesale businesses would be restricted to an area in the northwest section of town, near Liberty Street, that is zoned for light industrial. Retail businesses are restricted to what are known as “highway” retail areas, which are less concentrated spaces that typically include on-site parking. These would be areas off of Route 27, and Central and Amboy Avenues, Delia said. 

Delia made a point in stressing the plan doesn’t allow for retail cannabis businesses along Main Street. 

Fees for the licenses are: $2,500 application fee, and a $15,000 annual license fee. Taxes on the license classes are: 1 percent for wholesale license and 2 percent for retail license. 

It’s too early to tell what kind of revenue these fees will generate but Delia said they could prove to be significant revenue generators. The ordinance points out the additional revenues could help keep seniors in town who are having trouble paying their property taxes. It’s like, legal weed to keep people in their homes, what a concept!

The plan “has the potential to provide a significant source of additional revenue to the borough annually to offset the current reliance on property taxes. Said additional revenue will assist the borough in providing tax relief, including relief for senior residents that would like to remain in the borough but face challenges due to the burden of real property taxes.”

Not a free-for-all

Council’s plan comes with many restrictions, which should prevent some of the more egregious violations imagined in the minds of those who can’t imagine weed ever being legal.  

For example, the rules do not allow for on-site consumption, even though that could have been allowed under the state law. “We decided that wasn’t for Metuchen,” Delia said. 

There are restrictions on businesses allowing long lines to form outside. They either have to have enough space to accommodate heavy queuing, or put in place a reservation system. 

Hours of operations will be from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the businesses can’t be within 200 feet of a K -12th grade school; and no cannabis or paraphernalia is allowed to be visible from the street. 

The businesses also must have security plans in place, including video monitoring systems and on-site security personnel during operating hours, according to the ordinance.

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