Bordentown Township residents could see a retail cannabis store sometime in the next year if the township’s committee decides on a new ordinance—one that allows for one retail cannabis distribution license in the highway commercial zone.

Bordentown Curaleaf

Bordentown Township Mayor Steve Benowitz cuts the ribbon for Curaleaf in Bordentown on Aug. 27, 2021. (Facebook Photo/Burlington Mercer Chamber of Commerce.)

Last June, Bordentown passed an ordinance that prohibited recreational cannabis establishments in town. Now, a new ordinance is being crafted for consideration during the first quarter of next year, said Michael Theokas, Bordentown Township administrator. The new measure would follow all of the standard procedures of public comments and notification.

The proposed change would not specify a company or property, although Bordentown’s Curaleaf, which is currently operating as a medical cannabis dispensary only, could include retail sales in their repertoire if they choose to apply for a license.

The Curaleaf facility, which is located at 191 U.S. 130, within the township’s designated highway commercial zone, opened as the company’s 109th facility in August 2021. Company officials appeared before the township committee with a presentation proposing the sale of recreational marijuana in town.

“They’ve been a very good neighbor and a good corporate citizen to the township,” Theokas said. He explained in an interview with the Current that, if a new ordinance passes, “a prospective licensee would then have to get a letter from the municipality stating that a retail cannabis store is a permitted use in a listed specific location, and get a resolution from the governing body confirming the appropriate zoning.”

The company would then have to approach the state of New Jersey for approval, and if they are successful, will return to the township for site plan approval. Any establishments who become officially recognized must comply with all regulations and site conditions.

During the Nov. 22 township committee meeting, the involved parties discussed retail cannabis use, then asked the community development director to draft a new ordinance for consideration.

The state of New Jersey offers six classes of licenses for recreational cannabis: cultivator, manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and delivery.

“The other five we will consider, also, but again, there’s no answer. We still have to discuss that, and we’ve been doing this, as I said before, in public. There’s no hidden agenda,” Mayor Steve Benowitz said. “You take it one step at a time.

“The deal is, you have to listen to your public,” he continued.

Theokas echoed that sentiment and stressed that again, this is all on a hypothetical basis, with the township still in the beginnings of the process.

“I think that this is so new, the regulations are so new, the industry is so new, that the committee is going to take their time and really evaluate what’s right for the township. It may be some more, it may be nothing more. But they’re going to look at it from a holistic perspective and a zoning perspective, to do what’s best for the township,” Theokas said.

In November 2020, about 67% of New Jersey voters approved the legalization of recreational cannabis for adults 21 years of age and over. For Bordentown residents, 4,694 voted in favor, while only 1,982 voted no.

Towns were then given an Aug. 21, 2021 deadline, where they could either opt in from retail sales, opt out, or remain idle and miss the chance to take action. If municipalities could not reach a conclusion, any class of cannabis establishment would then be permitted in the areas.

“The state was a little slow in adopting the regulations,” Theokas said. “Our township, Bordentown Township, like many other townships, weren’t comfortable with allowing it in the township without the state regulations being in place yet.”

Now, with the state putting proper procedures into place, Bordentown is considering reevaluating its plans. Only time will tell if any potential company, which may include Curaleaf, could sell cannabis via retail in addition to medical use.

Bordentown City, however, chose to opt in for recreational cannabis, passing an ordinance on Aug. 9. Under the new order, they are allowing two cultivators, two manufacturers, two retailers, and one delivery business in the designated zoning areas.

The cultivation and manufacturing facilities are limited to the industrial zones. Retail sales will be limited to the city’s part of Routes 130 and 206—a choice made to minimize the effects of parking and traffic.

“We’ve taken a measured approach to allow a limited number of businesses to locate in carefully targeted areas, which will pave the way to revitalize several underutilized properties and at the same time, provide long-term financial benefits to taxpayers in the city,” Bordentown City Mayor Jennifer Sciortino said.

Also created with the ordinance is a local Cannabis Advisory Committee, a group of seven who will help vet applications for local licenses, then make recommendations to the city commissioners.

Eight out of ten Bordentown City voters were in favor of the 2020 ballot option on recreational cannabis, showing “ample support” from the community, Sciortino said.

Several businesses have reached out with interest, Sciortino explained, but there is nothing set in stone yet. Once the municipality creates a formal application to keep on file, that process can begin.

“We are planning outreach to keep the community as updated as possible as things progress, because we recognize this is new to everyone and, if need be, we will amend our ordinance to address any concerns as they arise,” she continued.

The city and township made their decisions on recreational cannabis independent of each other, but both are making strides towards future regulations.

“We try to do what’s best for our community. We carefully consider all the different options, and we do what we feel is best for our community. That’s all I care about, it’s what we’re elected for,” Benowitz said.

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While the state works to establish new regulations, townships are deciding on a local level whether to introduce medical and recreational cannabis. Some areas already have medical facilities that wish to expand their current usage to include the retail sale of cannabis.

Zen Leaf, a Lawrence medical dispensary, opened in June 2021 and is located at 3256 Brunswick Pike with a selection of edibles, flowers, vapes and more. According to Lawrence Town Manager Kevin Nerwinski, they have interest in having retail sales on the same property.

“In my discussions with the manager, the business is doing well, just as expected,” Nerwinski said, also disclosing that The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission was set to open the application process for marijuana growers, processors and testing labs on Dec. 15.

However, dispensaries cannot apply until March 15.

“The law was only recently passed. There is much regulatory work that has to be done before the sale of recreational cannabis can start,” Nerwinski said. “They are making progress. I think New Jersey’s cautious and measured approach to introducing the cannabis industry to the state is appropriate.”

Bordentown’s Curaleaf, an international company spanning over 100 dispensaries, has built their brand on providing “clarity around cannabis and confidence around consumption.” Curaleaf approached the Bordentown Township Committee about retail cannabis use, and now a new ordinance is being crafted for consideration to go beyond the medical realm.

“I had the opportunity of actually taking a tour of the (medical cannabis) facility, which was eye-opening, quite frankly,” Mayor Steve Benowitz said. “I know people had a lot of fears with [its] security. Let me tell you, it looks like Fort Knox inside.”

Chicago-based business Justice Cannabis Co. received their permit to cultivate and process medicinal cannabis in Ewing, with their storefront, operating under the brand Bloc Dispensary, set to unveil at 1761 N. Olden Ave. Formerly known as Justice Grown, the business broke ground on the property in 2019.

When New Jersey allows for existing licensees to apply for retail or other expanded uses, Justice Cannabis Co. will likely follow suit, according to Chuck Latini, Ewing’s planning and zoning office.

Latini said that Justice Grown’s dispensary is “moving along” in terms of construction, which could open in the next few months. The cultivation site on Prospect Street is a little farther behind because of the “complexities” involved with growing and setting up a new environment.

“As far as the township’s concerned, we thank them for taking on these challenging sites, because one of them was vacant for a couple decades. I think once they’re up and running, and the place is vibrant with the jobs and activity going on, I see that whole area on Prospect Street start to prosper,” Latini said.

There are already temporary grow pods in the parking lot of the cultivation site, helping Justice Cannabis Co. function as operational before building is completed.

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