PATERSON — City officials are weighing a preliminary plan that would permit the opening of six retail stores for legalized marijuana sales in Paterson and generate as much as $1.5 million per year in cannabis license fees.
Besides the retail establishments, the plan would allow as many as 30 other cannabis-related businesses in Paterson, operations that would grow, manufacture, distribute and deliver legalized marijuana. The city would be able to impose 2% sales taxes on most of those operations, officials said.
About a dozen city officials held a private meeting Tuesday to talk about the plan. The City Council is scheduled to hold a public discussion on the issue at its meeting next week. Mayor Andre Sayegh, a self-described “teetotaler,” said he supports allowing the legalized marijuana businesses in Paterson. Sayegh said he believed the cannabis businesses would generate revenue for the city and create jobs.
“I may have a Puritanical approach in my personal life, but that doesn’t affect my outlook on this issue,” Sayegh said.
Sayegh said 76% of Paterson voters supported the legalization of marijuana in a recent statewide referendum that preceded the change in New Jersey law regarding cannabis.
“There’s a groundswell of support for this in our city,” he said.
The mayor noted that the operation of a medical marijuana dispensary at a Route 20 commercial strip has not caused any problems.
As Paterson moves toward allowing legalized marijuana sales, many neighboring towns already have adopted ordinances that would prohibit cannabis businesses. That situation prompted one community leader, Kemper McDowell, to warn during last week’s city council meeting that Paterson could become the Amsterdam of Passaic County — a reference to the Dutch city long known for its cannabis tourism.
McDowell, who is in charge of the Paterson school district’s family engagement department, said he has seen first-hand the devastating impact of drugs on Paterson’s children.
“Don’t let our Wall Street moneymakers create a quality of life that we can’t deal with,” McDowell told the council.
Almost two years ago, leaders in Paterson’s Islamic community spoke out forcefully against a plan to allow a medical-marijuana company open a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in South Paterson. That operation ended up opening in a different part of the city, but officials said the community opposition was not the cause of the change in location.
City Council President Maritza Davila, who convened Tuesday’s private meeting about the marijuana business plan, said she still has many questions about the proposal. Davila said the proposed ordinance ought to funnel the marijuana fees and taxes only for specific purposes, like the enforcement of the cannabis businesses and recreation for Paterson’s youth.
Davila said she hasn’t decided whether she supports the plan. But she doesn’t have much time to make up her mind.
Under the state law legalizing marijuana, municipalities have until Aug. 21 to adopt local ordinances regulating and taxing the establishments. If the city doesn’t act by then, there would be no local regulations and Paterson would have to wait five years before it could impose any, under the law.
“If we don’t do something, it’s wide open,” said Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale. “It’s like the Wild West.”
The cannabis plan — like all city ordinances — would require affirmative votes by the city council at two separate meetings as well as a public hearing. That gives Paterson very little time to spare if the city is going to enact its own regulations, officials said.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: email@example.com