On Monday night, the Verona Town Council will be discussing whether or not there is support amongst the Council members to overturn Verona's ban on cannabis businesses.
There seems to be a bit of confusion floating around so I want to address some facts before Monday. The Township created a webpage that contains all of the information referenced below, which you can find here: https://www.veronanj.org/cannabis.
When did Verona ban cannabis related businesses in Verona and why? Verona enacted two ordinances in June 2021 banning cannabis businesses (see website for copies of the ordinances). New Jersey lifted the ban on cannabis businesses via a public question during the November 2020 election (66% of Verona voters supported lifting the ban). The Council at the time felt that they had to ban all cannabis businesses as the rules governing those businesses were not finalized by the State of New Jersey and we had a deadline set by the State to decide if Verona would opt-in or opt-out. We knew that if we opted out, future Verona Town Councils could study this issue once NJ established their rules and then could decide to opt-in at any time. I joined my colleagues at the time to vote 5-0 to ban these types of businesses.
Why is the Town Council discussing removing the ban on businesses now? We are discussing this issue because two Verona residents asked us to reconsider our ban on cannabis businesses in Verona as they would like to establish a retail dispensary in Verona. After their request, the Council decided to re-examine our ban and obtain an update from the professionals on the current state of cannabis businesses in New Jersey.
What sort of data has Verona gathered during the last few months? Verona invited a recognized expert of cannabis businesses in New Jersey, Attorney Ronald Mondello, to provide an overview to the Council. We also spoke with our Police Chief Chris Kiernan. You can review Mr. Mondello's presentation and the Chief's statement from links from the page above. After the presentation, we asked for our Administration to hire a firm to do a zoning analysis to understand where we could possibly put cannabis businesses, including a dispensary. That analysis can be found on the website above under "Zoning".
How much revenue could Verona expect if we establish a cannabis business? Depends on what type of cannabis is allowed. A retail dispensary is estimated to generate $180K to $240K for a town such as Verona if we establish a 2% local sales tax on retail cannabis sales. Verona could also establish an substantial annual fee required of any such business in Verona that could push total annual revenue closer to $300K. Just by way of comparison, an additional $300K in annual revenue is similar in size to many of our PILOT agreements and is also similar to fees we generate annually from construction permits. In other words, this could represent a new, substantial form of revenue. Another comparison would be to look at the fees Verona receives on similar businesses - liquor stores and bars - which equaled $17,000 in 2021.
So what is the Council deciding exactly on Monday night? The Council will have a conversation in New Business to determine if a majority of members want to consider removing the ban on one or more of the different type of cannabis businesses, and where there is agreement such businesses could be zoned. The conversation will likely focus mostly on whether or not we want to establish a retail dispensary and where.
Are we approving a specific application for a business in a specific location? No. We are taking a big step back and looking at the entire town to see if we want to allow any type of cannabis business in Verona, and if so, where that business could be located.
If the majority of the Council is in agreement to overturn the ban on a certain type of cannabis business and agrees on a zoning location or locations, then what happens? The Council would then ask the Administration to hire a professional to draft a zoning ordinance, which we would discuss at future meetings. Once finalized, the zoning ordinance would need to be introduced by the Council and then go to the Planning Board for review and discussion and then back to the Council for a final vote. That process alone would take 3-4 months. After a zoning ordinance is established, then the Council would need to agree on what the requirements would be for a cannabis business in Verona, and a process by which to select such business. That would also encompass several conversations and would probably take 2-3 months to finalize.
In conclusion, I would welcome you to email your thoughts on this issue by emailing the entire Council here (https://www.veronanj.org/councilcontactform) or by attending the meeting in person or via Zoom on Monday night. The information on how to do so can be found here: https://www.veronanj.org/councilmeetings.