March 1, 2022

Update from Mayor Bhalla on cannabis dispensaries

Dear Resident,

I provide this communication to update you on the topic of cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken.

To provide some background on the matter, as you may know, in 2020, voters in New Jersey were provided with the opportunity to vote, at the ballot box, in a state-wide referendum to legalize cannabis. Voters overwhelmingly chose to do so, with 2,737,746 voting yes (67%), and 1,343,637 (33%) voting no state-wide, and over 70% of Hoboken residents voting in favor of cannabis legalization. Following this vote, the State provided cities like Hoboken with the authority to determine whether to permit medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries in their respective municipalities.

My personal view at the time, as it remains today, is that the legalization of adult use cannabis provides not only a substantial economic opportunity for Hoboken, but more importantly, an opportunity for us as a community repair damage that the “war on drugs” caused minority communities in Hoboken. This damage included countless youth in Hoboken who were tagged as criminals and incarcerated for simple possession of minor amounts of cannabis – an offense which is now legal. We must invest in restorative justice for minority communities, this is my commitment.  It is also why I insisted that at least 75% of Hoboken’s local tax revenue from cannabis sales be directed at assistance and rehabilitative services for minority communities. And it’s why the State of New Jersey set a regulatory framework that gives heightened opportunities for minorities to have a real seat at the table in reaping the economic benefits associated with the legalization of adult use cannabis. I view this topic primarily through the lens of civil rights and racial justice.

As we considered whether to move forward and allow cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken, my administration worked collaboratively with the City Council to craft legislation that would only permit medical and recreational dispensaries in certain areas of the City. This process is one that has been taken by a number of cities in New Jersey, and has begun to take place in New York State as well.

As a part of this process, City Councilmembers provided input in determining which areas of Hoboken should – and should not -  be permitted to have cannabis dispensaries. The overwhelming consensus of the City Council was that dispensaries should only be permitted in zones that were not primarily residential. My administration deferred to each Ward Councilmember to provide input into permitted locations for dispensaries, and some did in fact provide feedback to the City. As an example, Second Ward (uptown Hoboken) Council Member Tiffanie Fisher did make the recommendation that some areas (zoned as Industrial) surrounding the Hudson Tea Building, Maxwell Place, Shipyard, and the Park & Garden buildings be excluded from the permitted areas. We incorporated the Councilwoman’s feedback into the ordinance permitting cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken.

The ordinance, and subsequent amendments, also included specific information on the required guidelines pertaining to dispensaries.

These include:

  1. Requirements of approval of dispensaries before a Hoboken Cannabis Review Board and Hoboken Planning Board, as well as approval of a license before the State of New Jersey
  2. A minimum of 500 feet between dispensaries
  3. Restricting dispensaries from being located on the same block as a school
  4. Maximum hours of operation between 8 am and 10 pm
  5. Requirements of equipment to mitigate cannabis-related odor, which includes a ventilation system with carbon filters for the inventory stored at the dispensaries
  6. Security protocols within the facility, approved by the Hoboken Police Department, and required by the State of New Jersey

I thank the many members of the public who took the opportunity to provide input into the ordinance, which included a community forum, as well as public sessions before the City Council as they considered the ordinances and amendments that were ultimately considered and voted on.

All four ordinances and amendments that considered and permitted medical and retail cannabis dispensaries in Hoboken, which included permitted locations, passed unanimously 9-0 with the support of every Council Member.

To clarify misinformation: any dispensary must currently remain as retail only, as opposed to a location where cannabis can be consumed within the facility, or in outdoor areas within the property. No applicant or dispensary is permitted to submit an application for consumption (also commonly known as a lounge application), as this is not yet approved by the State for local dispensaries. In our local Hoboken ordinance, even when on-site consumption is permitted use by the State, any dispensary must receive approval by my office, the City Council, Planning Board, and Cannabis Review Board.

As of today, two medical-use dispensaries have been fully approved.

Recent application before the Cannabis Review Board

Recently, an application was filed with the Cannabis Review Board for approval to open a new cannabis dispensary at the location of what was previously Hudson Tavern, at 14th and Hudson Streets, in what is considered by Hoboken zoning to be within a commercial district (C-3). I sincerely thank the many residents who have provided feedback to my office, and to members of the City Council as well.

Unfortunately, as noted above, there has been a great deal of misinformation that has been provided to members of the community pertaining to this application specifically, and regarding the process for cannabis dispensary approval, generally. While I hope the above information has been useful regarding the process, I would like to further clarify some inaccuracies that may have landed in your email inbox.

  1. Permitted locations for dispensaries: As mentioned previously, the locations where dispensaries can be sited were approved by a unanimous 9-0 vote of the City Council. As a part of this vote, Councilwoman Fisher voted to approve potential dispensary locations in the C-3 commercial zone on 14th Street between Clinton Street and Hudson Street (the dispensary for Hudson Tavern is proposed to be located in this area), while recommending that other areas such as the Hudson Tea, Maxwell, Shipyard, and Park & Garden buildings (as noted above) be specifically eliminated from potential dispensary locations. We deferred to this request within her Ward, which is reflected in the final cannabis ordinance. I believe it to be disingenuous for the Councilwoman, who voted to approve and write into law permitted areas for dispensaries, including on 14th Street, to now take the position that it is no longer an appropriate location within her Ward.
  2. Retail vs. consumption/lounging application: The current application for a cannabis dispensary is for retail only. No consumption/lounge license was requested by the applicant, and none would be considered. If approved, only the retail sale of cannabis will be permitted, no cannabis will be consumed on site.
  3. The review by the Cannabis Review Board is not the final approval of this application.  The application must also go before the Planning Board at a later date, with notice provided.

Based on feedback from the community, the Cannabis Review Board secured the following conditions on the approval of the application:

  1. No cannabis consumption/lounging on site, in perpetuity: the applicant has agreed to a deed restriction that would preclude any consumption/lounging on site, for the duration of the business at that site.
  2. Funding of an additional police officer: the applicant has agreed to fund the salary of one Hoboken Police Officer per year for the duration of the business
  3. $50,000 donation per year to Hoboken’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  4. An annual education program for Hoboken residents, pertaining to cannabis consumption

And, like all other dispensaries, if approved, 2% of the revenue from the sale of cannabis would be provided back to the City of Hoboken, 75% of which must be allocated for advancing restorative justice in Hoboken.

After a careful review of the ordinance, I believe that we should make the following amendments to our cannabis ordinances:

  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 noticing 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.

The City Council will consider these amendments, which I anticipate will be presented for first and second reading at the next two Council meetings (March 9th and 23rd).

I hope this information has been helpful.


Ravi S. Bhalla