Cannabis is a growing issue at meeting

Photos by Javon Ross
Cannabis Attorney Scheril Murray Powell, a cannabis agricultural dietary trade supplement attorney who has been practicing cannabis law for seven years, emphasizes the need to redefine cannabis for the future at the meeting.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Challenges to cannabis approval was the theme of the West Orange Township Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The ordinance in question allows four cannabis businesses to open in West Orange, as long as they are at least 200 feet away from parks, schools and places of worship. The ordinance also allows for an undetermined amount of cannabis microbusinesses to open up, as long as they adhere to the same distance rules.

There are currently seven businesses going through the state application process to open in West Orange. However, the ordinance, as it is currently written, has been called into question, as federal guidelines state that cannabis businesses should be more than 1,000 feet away from these areas, not the 200-foot distance for which the businesses were approved according to the West Orange ordinance.

Among those advocating in favor of cannabis businesses locating in West Orange are former Councilwoman Cindy Manute-Brown, cannabis attorney Scheril Murray Powell and Precious Osagie-Erese, the chief operations officer of Roll Up Life Inc., a cannabis delivery company servicing New Jersey.

Brett Carroll, a cannabis dispensary applicant and West Orange resident, discussed the obstacles that his cannabis business has faced since receiving its letter of approval from Township Council.
“I am here on behalf of the chemistry project. We are another cannabis applicant that received approval from this board,” Carroll said at the meeting.

“On Dec. 20, we got approval from the Zoning Board for our building. Last week, the request was rescinded because of a proposed change in the ordinance. This is the third time that we have gotten a building just for it to be rescinded. This is very frustrating.”

Powell, a cannabis agricultural dietary trade supplement attorney who has been practicing cannabis law for seven years, emphasized the need to redefine cannabis for the future.

“I have spoken to many commissions and councils from across the country – from Nebraska, Iowa, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, and New York,” she said at the meeting. “When we talk about cannabis, it is really important to keep in mind that it is a plant. The days of it being considered a drug are behind us. We need to discuss it as a recovery tool for illness and chronic disease.”

Powell also spoke on the misinformation that created fear around cannabis and why it has been withheld from the public for decades.
“There was a lot of propaganda and misinformation, which led to seven decades of prohibition,” Powell said. “I have found that fear is combated only with education. We can all agree that it is a responsibility to make informed decisions based on new information.”

Osagie-Erese, who is also the minority cannabis business association communications director, the largest non-profit trade association that supports cannabis operators in black and brown communities, said she was saddened by the situation in West Orange.

“I felt completely disheartened to be called here by my colleagues in the cannabis industry,” Osagie-Erese said at the meeting. “The potential that folks who have worked extremely hard can have all their work taken back is devastating. This new industry is extremely difficult to enter as a person of color, you are sacrificing retirement funds and so much of yourself in hopes of raising millions of dollars and building generational wealth – not just for you, but for your city as well. This is a lot bigger than us at the end of the day.”

After people at the meeting spoke, Council President Tammy Williams expressed her concerns.
“I want to put on the record that I am not interested in reducing the number of cannabis letters of support,” Williams said at the meeting. “I have always suggested that the process go organically and that, in the event that there is some reason why these businesses are unable to open, that it should not be the doing or undoing of this body.”

Councilwoman Michelle Casalino also shared her reservations regarding cannabis businesses opening up in West Orange.

“I have been cautious about this and I do not apologize for that,” Casalino said at the meeting. “This is a learning adjustment, so please be patient with us.”