OAKLAND — Council members voted to approve a cannabis cultivation facility on Muller Road, but then debated a possible November referendum question to see if residents want such businesses in the borough.
The Council adopted three ordinances in December 2021 establishing five categories of non-retail cannabis businesses that may be set up in the borough. Kusala Care Cannabis LLC filed an application eight months later in August 2022 to open a cannabis cultivation facility on Muller Road and filed a $6.8 million tort claim against the borough last December after the borough failed to act on that application.
Wednesday’s vote was greeted with applause from residents who have attended several meetings offering support and urging approval. Councilmen Pat Pignatelli, Kevin Slasinski and Russell Talamini voted yes, Councilmen Steven Saliani and Eric Kulmala were absent, and Councilman John McCann abstained.
Borough Attorney Matthew Gilson said a “two-fold process” is next, and that “the idea they are going to start growing tomorrow is not accurate.”
“There’s the statewide licensing requirement which the applicant will have to go through, and there’s the Planning Board process,” Gilson said. “The applicant will present a site plan. At that point they will have to present more information on odor control. All these things will be analyzed by the planning board engineer and planner. They will have to provide information on traffic, parking.”
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After the meeting, Kusala Care COO George Lutfey said they will be applying for a state license next.
Councilman John McCann has led a relentless campaign against the ordinances since he was appointed in June 2022. He has insisted that just because 62% of Oakland voters approved the legalization of adult recreational marijuana in a November 2020 statewide referendum does not mean they want the businesses to operate locally.
Citing a variety of health risks, McCann has repeatedly announced he would not approve any cannabis application regardless of its legality and has championed a motion to repeal the borough’s three ordinances designating four zones in which cannabis businesses could operate.
Other council members have been more muted or silent on the topic. Kulmala and Pignatelli have focused on difficulties arising for municipalities from shifting state regulations on emerging businesses.
A motion to repeal the ordinances has been tabled, but the debate has continued over several council meetings. More recently, the council has shifted to wording for a possible November non-binding referendum seeking voter input on the question.
A draft resolution proposing the referendum posted with the April 12 agenda suggested its wording as: “Do you support allowing businesses to operate in the Borough of Oakland for cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis as defined by New Jersey state statute?”
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The problem is the wording includes only three of the five approved categories: cultivation, manufacturing and distribution. The question was raised whether wholesaler and delivery categories should be added to the wording. Mayor Linda Schwager also questioned whether retail sales should be added, but was advised since it was not part of the original ordinances it would have to be the subject of a separate question.
The Council agreed more discussion was needed on wording, with a county deadline 80 days before the November election.
A video of the April 12 meeting can be viewed on YouTube.