Paramus board rejects recreational marijuana proposal

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PARAMUS — A mayor’s proposal to bring recreational marijuana to the borough was tabled before it could even get a vote.

An ordinance, which sought to amend the borough’s existing medical cannabis ordinance to include recreational marijuana, did not receive a motion to move forward with a vote at the Wednesday’s board meeting.

Mayor Richard LaBarbiera has been a vocal advocate for bringing recreational marijuana to the borough, posting frequently on social media and discussing at town hall meetings.

LaBarbiera said that despite having a representative from Rise Dispensaries come in to discuss their experience and financial numbers, it all “fell on deaf ears” at the meeting.

“It defies logic,” LaBarbiera said. “The economic windfall is clear and any objection or denial against it is simply illogical in my view.”

The story continues under the gallery.

Rise Dispensaries, which sells medical marijuana, opened a location near downtown Bergen in March 2021. This was the second Rise marijuana dispensary in New Jersey. The first was in Paterson in December 2019.

Currently, the borough code prohibits recreational marijuana dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries are only permitted in the Highway Corridor Commercial Area along Highway 4.

Paramus residents voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana in the 2020 presidential election. Ballot numbers show 5,242 residents were in favor of legalization and 3,408 were against.

In April 2021, LaBarbiera received preliminary figures that medical marijuana facilities earn about $20 million per year per location, $400,000 of which could accrue to the borough through the 2% transfer tax.

In the first month of recreational sales in the state, consumers spent more than $24 million on marijuana, according to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

Nearby Rochelle Park has an Ascend facility that has been selling medical and recreational marijuana since April. In the past, LaBarbiera has argued that Paramus gets all the traffic from the Route 17 facility, but none of the revenue.

Democratic Councilman Maria Elena Bellinger and Republican Councilman Chris DiPiazza, who are running for mayor in the upcoming November election, have both taken a “wait and see” approach, wanting to observe how recreational marijuana plays out in other cities before making decisions.

DiPiazza said that for now, he wants to continue gathering information about the pros and cons of selling recreational marijuana in town and the impact it would have both financially and socially.

“I think Paramus will always be the center of the retail market regardless of the industry and if the time comes when we allow adult use, I think there will be a lot of companies looking to invest “, said DiPiazza.

Bellinger said she continues to ask questions and find out what recreational marijuana could mean for the community.

“We have a fiscal responsibility to our taxpayers, so there’s definitely that share, but that’s not the only responsibility we have to our residents,” Bellinger said. “I want to have all the facts and all the information before I’m ready to make any changes.”

Other council members, including Jorge Quintana, said they were adamantly opposed to the sale of recreational marijuana in the borough.

“The people I see regularly, they don’t want it in the stores in my town,” Quintana said.

In addition to recreational dispensaries in Paterson and Rochelle Park, Ascend in Montclair opened earlier this month for adult-use recreational marijuana sales after a year of jumping through bureaucratic and legal hoops.

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