PATERSON — For the second time in two months, the City Council has blocked an attempt by Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration to increase the number of stores that sell cannabis in Paterson.
In a 6-2 vote, the council rejected the administration’s proposal during a raucous City Hall meeting Tuesday night that had to be stopped for 15 minutes when people in the audience opposing the cannabis expansion began shouting at public officials while they spoke.
Prominent among the protesters were members of Paterson’s Islamic community who repeatedly have opposed the opening of cannabis businesses in the city.
“Save our kids from another addiction,” read a sign held by one of the people yelling at the council members.
What would the legal weed ordinance have done?
Paterson this year is collecting about $2 million from the one business allowed to sell cannabis in the city, the RISE dispensary at a strip mall off Route 20. Sayegh has embraced the expansion of cannabis stores, saying they would generate much-needed revenue for a cash-strapped city.
The ordinance voted down Tuesday night would have increased the number of cannabis retail licenses in Paterson from three to 10. The rejected plan also would have eliminated a restriction that currently prohibits the businesses from operating within 300 feet of any homes.
Voting against the ordinance were Al Abdelaziz, Michael Jackson, Shahin Khalique, Alex Mendez, Md Forid Uddin and Luis Velez. The two council members who supported the cannabis expansion were Ruby Cotton and Maritza Davila.
Last month:In reversal, Paterson council rejects mayor’s cannabis expansion plan
What did officials say?
“If you want to see a Paterson that’s full of liquor stores and dispensaries, then vote for this,” Abdelaziz told his colleagues. “This is not what the city needs. Today it’s 10, in six months it’s 20, in a year it’s 40.”
Abdelaziz disagreed with officials who said the expansion was needed because of an increase in applications for cannabis licenses.
“You know what you tell the people who put in new applications? Thank you, but we’re closed for business,” Abdelaziz said.
Jackson said he opposed the ordinance because he doesn’t trust the Sayegh administration to handle the issuance of licenses fairly. He said the businesses should be owned by cultural minority members from Paterson, people he argued were criminalized by past law enforcement efforts against marijuana.
Jackson said the $2 million in cannabis taxes meant that RISE was handling $100 million in retail sales in the city. “Make them share some of that wealth,” he asserted, suggesting the company should be forced to take local partners.
Davila said opponents of the cannabis industry were spreading misinformation to undermine the expansion effort, such as statements that marijuana caused overdoses. She also argued that marijuana sales already run rampant in Paterson, conducted on street corners by illegal dealers who she said lace the weed with other drugs. Expanding the number of regulated cannabis stores would better protect the people, she said.
Cotton said she has visited various cannabis stores in Newark and Jersey City and that the businesses were safe and well-run. “I think people have painted the wrong picture,” she said.
When Cotton was voting, the yelling from the audience gallery of protesters grew so loud that the council president, Mendez, halted the meeting, calling for a five-minute recess that ended up lasting more than 15 minutes.
Mendez chastised the audience when the meeting resumed.
“It’s unacceptable for you to come here yelling at the council members because of their decision,” Mendez asserted. “We’re not going to tolerate that. You control yourself the right way, or you’re going to be out of the chambers.”
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press.