ATL HIGHLANDS – The Planning Board unanimously passed a resolution at its meeting last week to inform the Mayor and Council their approval of a code banning any cannabis business within the borough is consistent with the borough’s Master Plan.
In directing that the governing body be advised of the planning board action, members termed it a ‘wise choice’, “logical” and in keeping with actions of most municipalities throughout the state.
Surprisingly, the matter was not on the agenda for last night’s meeting. Had it not been acted upon, the governing body would not have been able to pass the ordinance banning cannabis without another special meeting of the board prior to Aug. 12 the governing body’s only meeting in August. It is a requirement that the planning board review all matters for consistency with the Master Plan and make its decision known to the governing body before action can be taken.
It was only after local resident James Krauss questioned at the beginning of the meeting why the matter was not scheduled to be considered. After further discussion, Planning Board attorney recommended, and planners agreed, a last minute addition was added to the agenda, in keeping with state law.
Atlantic Highlands is facing the same situation that has frustrated communities throughout the state since the cannabis bill passed and was signed by Governor Murphy. That law calls for a hard deadline of Aug. 22 for communities to take action on allowing any one or more of six different businesses connected with cannabis within their municipality.
However, at the same time, all the state regulations related to control over future cultivation, distribution and retail sales has not yet been released by the state. That put communities essentially in the position of acting on something on which they do not have all the information.
If the borough does not ban all cannabis businesses before Aug. 22, according to state law, local governments would then be bound by all aspects of the state law, including all regulations not yet announced or known. That would mean all segments of the cannabis business would automatically become lawful in the individual town and amendments to that law would not be allowed for five years.
However, by passing a law banning all manner of cannabis business in town before the Aug. 22 deadline, the borough will retain its right to review all parts of the state law and make its decisions on whether it wants cannabis businesses and what types of businesses it would permit based on their knowledge of the entire state regulations.
Council introduced its ordinance to ban cannabis at its July meeting and set a public hearing and final adoption for its Aug. 12 meeting, ten days before the state mandated Aug. 22 deadline. Had Krauss not questioned, and the planner had not amended their agenda, to act on its recommendation and information to the borough council, Council could not have acted Aug. 12 and the planners would have had to have a special meeting prior to Aug. 22 to enable the ordinance to be voted upon.
Contrary to the largest percentage of municipalities in the state, the borough of "High" lands by a majority vote passed a law permitting cannabis businesses in that borough, meaning that borough’s cannabis regulations now come under state rather than municipal law. All neighboring communities have banned cannabis businesses pending receipt of the state’s complete laws governing it.
If the borough any time in the future approves any cannabis business, a possibility given the large increase in municipal tax income it would generate, the Planning Board’s review and approval would still be required for the facilities or change of use variances.