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Middle Tables Ordinance Aimed at Clarifying Cannabis Rule

Middle Tables Ordinance Aimed at Clarifying Cannabis Rule

By Vince Conti

Swainton resident Nancy Wheeler-Driscoll making a point at the hearing.
Vince Conti
Swainton resident Nancy Wheeler-Driscoll making a point at the hearing.

COURT HOUSE – After a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at which residents spoke in opposition to the measure, the Middle Township Committee tabled an ordinance intended to clarify distance requirements for cannabis retail establishments.

Mayor Christopher Leusner at the hearing on the cannabis ordinance. Photo Credit: Vince Conti

The township had already adopted regulations that prevent cannabis businesses from being less than 1,000 feet from schools, places of worship and similar facilities. The new ordinance was meant to clarify that the 1,000-foot distance was from the front door of the establishment and not from the edge of the property line.

Calling marijuana a gateway drug, Nancy Wheeler-Driscoll reminded the committee that it is still listed as a Schedule I controlled dangerous substance by the federal government. She said she was aware of the referendum and overwhelming support given to legalizing cannabis products, but she warned that the move to open another adult-use shop in the county was helping to “normalize a gateway drug.”

Wheeler-Driscoll and other speakers argued for a wider buffer between a cannabis business and protected properties that such businesses are barred from being near. She also argued that the ordinance should include homes among the protected properties.

Middle Township has approved a license for a retail cannabis shop on Route 9 at its intersection with Avalon Boulevard in a building that previously housed a Wawa.

Township officials have said no second license will be awarded until they see the results from the first business. Mayor Christopher Leusner has repeatedly said the township will move at a slow pace on any further approvals.

Leusner pointed out that adult-use retail stores will exist “to the south of us and to the north of us.” He added that the township has selected a well-regarded firm with experience in the business, and he promised that township officials will watch the results closely before allowing a second store to open.

Special Counsel James Maley speaking at the public hearing. Photo Credit: Vince Conti

James Maley, a special counsel to the township on redevelopment matters and also the mayor of Collingswood, assured the public that existing review procedures will allow the township to make informed decisions about the location of any future cannabis business.

Leusner said that as the township’s police chief, he had been an opponent of cannabis legalization. He pointed to the overwhelming support for legalization in the 2020 statewide referendum on the issue. The state question to legalize marijuana passed in Middle Township with 69% of the vote.

With the public hearing over, Leusner called for a vote on the ordinance. The first vote, from Deputy Mayor Theron “Ike” Gandy, was a no. Committeeman James Norris voted yes, leaving the deciding vote to Leusner, who never cast a vote. The mayor then moved to table the ordinance so the township could gather more information and discuss it further.

The move will not stop any of the plans for the already approved store. The measurement issue the ordinance was seeking to clarify would only be a concern for subsequent businesses.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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