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Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Avalon to Ban Cannabis Businesses for a 2nd Time

Marijuana Plant - Shutterstock

By Vince Conti

AVALON – In 2019, Avalon Borough Council took the early initiative and adopted an ordinance banning marijuana salesand cannabis-related business operations in the borough.
The ordinance stated it was “the intent of the Borough of Avalon, as expressed in this ordinance, to prohibit all such manufacture, cultivation, growing, sale or distribution of marijuana, cannabis, or any product containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or their derivatives for medical or recreational purposes.” 
One exception was for cannabis distributed through a licensed pharmacy, an exception without meaning given the structure of separate dispensaries favored by the state.
State statutes passed after Avalon’s action nullified the borough’s ordinance, requiring all municipalities that wish to restrict cannabis activities to do it after, rather than before, the state laws legalizing cannabis use. 
Avalon’s governing body May 26 was back at the task, introducing a new ordinance on first reading that reaffirmed the restrictions in the 2019 ordinance and declared the sale of marijuana to be a prohibited use within all the borough’s zoning districts.
The ordinance should return for second reading, public hearing, and probable adoption at the council’s second meeting, in June. With the expected adoption of the ordinance before the Fourth of July, Avalon will join municipalities across the county that have strictly prohibited the establishment of cannabis-related enterprises.
The exception to this pattern is Middle Township, where the governing body passed a resolution supporting a Massachusetts firm interested in operating a medical marijuana dispensary on Indian Trail Road. Action on that potential dispensary is on hold, awaiting state decisions on licensing.
In the same May 26 council meeting, Avalon officials debated the merits of a proposed ordinance banning “the smoking of tobacco, cannabis and cannabis materials or any other substances which can be smoked or the ingestion thereof.” 
The borough takes the position that to ban marijuana smoking in public spaces, it must also ban the smoking of tobacco or other substances. The advice given to the governing body was that the borough could not selectively banmarijuana smoking only.
Discussion in the council’s work session focused less on the marijuana smoking ban, about which there was a consensus, and more on whether there could be or should be designated public areas where smoking tobacco would be allowed, even at the risk of inviting marijuana smoking, as well. 
The smoking ordinance was withdrawn from the agenda and will be redrafted to coincide with a strict prohibition of smoking of any kind on public property. The ordinance will be brought back to the council at its next meeting for a vote on introduction.
The council meeting also saw a discussion of enforcement issues arising from the state’s legalization statutes. Police Chief Jeffrey Christopher made a presentation to the body that focused on the difficulties of enforcement of state law and borough ordinances.
Christopher reminded the council of the public vote to amend the state constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana for those 21 and older. 
In the wake of that vote, Christopher said lawmakers and the governor “approved remarkable and significant legislation that legalizes cannabis and decriminalizes marijuana” in ways that were not explicit in the public vote.
He pointed to removing legal consequences for juveniles and also for adults 18 to 20. He also noted the addition of changes to underage alcohol possession rules, a change that was not part of the referendum interpretation voters considered.
Unregulated marijuana salesare still illegal, possession of too large an amount of marijuana is unlawful, and smoking or ingesting cannabis products in public areas are banned, but ways in which police can enforce these prohibitions have been significantly impacted by the new laws.
Christopher said the law prevents officers from using the smell or outright sight of marijuana or alcohol to initiate an investigation and “threatens third-degree criminal charges for police officers making mistakes while investigating offenses.” According to Christopher, the state laws make “enforcement difficult, if not impossible.”
Christopher told the council that underage possession of alcohol “now has little consequence.” The same holds true, he said, for possession of marijuana in public in amounts that do not exceed 6 ounces.
Although the police will be required to track warnings given to those under the age of 21, the warnings will be separate from other law enforcement systems and will not be shared, even with other law enforcement departments.
In comments on the borough’s website, Christopher also noted that “possession of drug paraphernalia, failure to dispose properly, possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle, and being under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana in public are no longer criminal offenses.”
He added that driving under the influence of alcohol or any drug, including marijuana, is still illegal and offenders will be charged accordingly.
 With summergenerating a surge in the county’s population, law enforcement will be challenged to enforce the laws where illegal activity is occurring, while doing so with the limitations now placed on investigations and police activity.
As of May 27, no state licenses were issued for the sale of controlled recreational cannabis products. There are 17 dispensaries in the state where medical marijuana may be legally obtained by over 100,000 registered patients. Illegal, uncontrolled marijuana is as available as it ever was.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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