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An Update on Hoboken’s Introduction of Retail Canna-businesses

by Stephanie Spear
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Since we last updated readers on the process of integrating retail cannabis businesses into Hoboken, there have been several updates and even a proposed change in policy. The first public hearing of the Cannabis Review Board drew dozens of virtual attendees and generated conversations all over town and on social media. Read on to learn the latest on retail cannabis in Hoboken.

hoboken retail canna businesses dispensaries

Cannabis Review Board Meeting

The meeting was held on Thursday, February 24th. This was the first time the Cannabis Review Board (CRB) heard this type of petition, and the hearing was held via Zoom. The agenda had three applicants scheduled and the public was invited to comment. Over 100 attendees participated. The CRB moved to push two applicants to its next hearing on March 24th.

The only applicant whose petition was heard was Story Dispensary, which wants to operate at 51-53 14th Street, the location of the former Hudson Tavern. While the dispensary’s license was granted, the discussion during and leading up to the meeting raised many questions about the city’s retail cannabis policy.

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Hoboken residents had questions about the city’s overall cannabis policy and specific items in the business’s applications. For example, the nature of how the space would be used such as whether for a true retail setting or more of a lounge plus retail spot where cannabis would be consumed on-site. There were also concerns about the security of the facilities, their locations near schools, sounds, and odors.

Story Dispensary

Story Dispensary will be a 6,000 square feet retail space located on the ground floor of 51-53 14th Street. Story’s application drew a great deal of criticism from both neighbors and Ward 2 Councilmember Tiffanie Fisher. Another neighbor, Leslie Graham, started a petition on Change.org against the dispensary location. The petition, called “Protect Hoboken Families and Children from Dispensary Dangers,” has over 500 signatures.

The building at 51-53 14th Street has seven residential units on the upper floors, and Councilwoman Fisher pointed out that the issues are more than just NIMBY complaints: there are material issues when a cannabis-based business quite literally shares a doorway with a residential building. In advance of the CRB hearing, she had received over 60 emails from constituents, mostly opposed to the dispensaries.

Following the CRB hearing, Councilwoman Fisher said in an email to constituents that she was “gutted by the outcome and that [she] didn’t do more to stop it from happening.” She reiterated her concerns about bringing a dispensary into a densely populated neighborhood like Hoboken. Councilwoman Fisher said that she thinks that the City Council got it wrong in August 2021 when voting upon the zoning restrictions for cannabis-based businesses. “Because of what we are realizing now, I don’t think any of my City Council colleagues or Mayor Bhalla read the ordinance in enough detail that night. Myself included,” she wrote. She described the current state of the law as a balance between zoning ordinances and cannabis regulations. “It was three years of multiple pieces of legislation relating to Cannabis and zoning, presented and passed separately and at different times. And quite frankly, with almost no transparency or public input. And the devil was in the details and we – the entire City Council and Mayor – missed the important details of what it meant when these ordinances were combined in the end. Myself included.”

Councilwoman Fisher will present three amendments to the cannabis policy at the March 9th City Council meeting.

First: Co-sponsored by CW Jabbour with the broad support of the City Council:

  • -Cap on 6 total dispensaries / 3 in any ward (this is the most constraining feature)
  • -200’ public notice requirement
  • -600’ buffer zone
  • – Buffer zone to include primary and secondary schools
  • – Restriction on early childhood learning center limited to “cannot be directly adjacent to”
  • – Recreational dispensaries removed from C-3 Neighborhood Commercial Zone (this addresses most on the list above)

Second: Co-sponsored by CM Ramos, CW Giattino, includes additional provisions we had proposed that didn’t have enough support to be included above, but hope will have the 5 votes needed to pass:

  • – Expand 600’ buffer zone to include early childhood learning, recreation, or daycare facility; and parks
  • – Give condo owners the right to approve (or not) any retail dispensaries in their buildings
  • – Removing Marineview 1 & 2 as possible locations which CM DeFusco felt was unnecessarily snagged in this, and is also too close to Stevens Park

Third: CM Cohen is sponsoring an ordinance restricting all smoking from city parks. Councilwoman Fisher discussed this in the subcommittee as well as how a few Hoboken Police officers shared that they lack the ability to enforce the state law that currently prohibits public smoking of cannabis altogether. They recommended that we establish a local consumption ordinance similar to the one that prohibits outdoor alcohol consumption, that would allow HPD to enforce and assess penalties and fines (as opposed to criminal actions). Councilwoman Fisher hopes to introduce this change on the next agenda, which would be simply a general ban on outdoor smoking of Cannabis.

Policy Update from Mayor Bhalla

Mayor Bhalla gave an update on March 1, 2022, regarding the cannabis policy. The mayor reiterated the background on the retail cannabis policy, emphasizing that citizens voted in favor of this change, specifically 70% of Hoboken voters. He went on to describe the opportunities that he sees in the cannabis industry. Not just economic benefits, but the policy revision presents the opportunity for changes in social and racial justice. “I view this topic primarily through the lens of civil rights and racial justice,” he says in the letter.

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He went on to correct what he called ‘misinformation’ surrounding retail cannabis in Hoboken. He clarified that the application for Story Dispensary was for retail space only, there was no request for lounge or on-site consumption; that the CRB decision is not the final stop in the application process; and that the changing in zoning in the locations of the proposed retail dispensaries were approved by City Councilmembers.

Mayor Bhalla then shared the text of amendments he will be putting forth at the next City Council meeting. The amendments address many of the specific concerns raised by community members:

  1. “Capping the number of dispensaries (medical and recreational) in Hoboken to a maximum of six, and a maximum of three per Ward (there are six Wards in Hoboken);
  2. While notice is required for any resident within 200 feet of a proposed dispensary for a Planning Board hearing, I believe notice should be required for those same residents for the initial Cannabis Review Board hearing, which precedes the Planning Board hearing;
  3.  A resident also brought to my attention that while a dispensary is prohibited from being located on the same block of a school, it could be located on the adjacent block. As a result, I also propose that any dispensary be prohibited from being located within 750 feet of any school or early childhood learning facility.”

Mayor Bhalla plans to introduce these amendments at the March 9th and March 24th City Council meetings. These meetings are held via Zoom and residents are welcome to participate.

The three amendments put forth by Mayor Bhalla echo some of the changes proposed by Councilwoman Fisher, focusing on the notice requirement for public hearings, limiting the total number of dispensaries in Hoboken, and adding more specificity to the prohibition on dispensaries near daycares and schools.

What’s Next for Retail Cannabis

Story Dispensary still has to get more approvals before it can officially open its doors for business, including from the Hoboken Planning Board which will be another public meeting. The other two applicants, called Nug Hoboken LLC and Village Hoboken LLC, will have their initial applications heard at the March 24th CRB meeting.

The amendments discussed above will be presented at the March 9th City Council meeting at 7PM, which will be broadcast via Zoom. Residents can access the meeting materials in advance here.

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