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Phillipsburg OKs recreational weed sales at The Apothecarium, but nowhere else

The Apothecarium a medical cannabis dispensary in Phillipsburg

The Apothecarium, a medical cannabis dispensary located in the former Phillipsburg Trust Co. building at 55 S. Main St., opened its doors Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.Saed Hindash | For lehighvalleylive.com

Once New Jersey officials green-light recreational, adult-use marijuana sales, Phillipsburg’s medical dispensary has the town’s approval to open its doors to weed users and the cannabis-curious ages 21 and older.

Town council on Tuesday gave final approval to an ordinance prohibiting recreational cannabis businesses in Phillipsburg, except at The Apothecarium that opened last November at 55 S. Main St.

New Jersey voters in a ballot referendum last November approved legalizing recreational, adult-use marijuana. Gov. Phil Murphy in February signed the legalization legislation into law, and a commission has been working to hammer out regulations before retail sales can begin.

Municipalities have until Aug. 21 to opt out of permitting recreational marijuana businesses within their borders, and those that opt in face a five-year moratorium before they can once again consider local rules for the industry.

Phillipsburg council on June 15 gave initial approval to the ordinance banning recreational, adult-use businesses. The discussion among council members at the meeting focused on opting out of allowing recreational cannabis sales by the deadline, to buy time to consider at a later date permitting these businesses to operate.

The ordinance available for public review ahead of the June 15 meeting did not include The Apothecarium’s exception, and lehighvalleylive.com on June 17 reported Phillipsburg was prohibiting all recreational, adult-use businesses. That report was based on the ordinance as included in the agenda and discussion before council. Town attorney Rich Wenner, however, did tell council on June 15 that the opt-out ordinance “would prohibit all other uses but grandfather The Apothecarium that is currently operating (a) business within the town and would also permit The Apothecarium to apply for and obtain a retail license for adult-use cannabis.”

The legal advertisement for the ordinance was then published June 19, with the legislation now reading that “the holder of a valid pre-existing alternative treatment center permit first issued by the State of New Jersey” -- The Apothecarium -- “may operate a cannabis retail establishment that functions as either or both a Medical Cannabis Dispensary and an Adult Use Cannabis Dispensary in order to carry on the retail sale of cannabis, cannabis items and related supplies to consumers for medical purposes and adult-use consumption ... .”

That’s the language given final approval Tuesday in a 5-0 vote by town council.

Wenner on Friday said he didn’t know if the exception language was included in the June 15 draft available to the public (page 96 at this link), but that it didn’t matter for the initial approval -- or first reading -- that night.

“You don’t need to have the ordinance in the form that’s going to be adopted for first reading,” he told lehighvalleylive.com.

The ordinance given initial approval June 15 by council included the exception and it was advertised that way for both the first and second readings, Wenner said Friday.

Council President Frank McVey said Friday “no one edited that version carried over from the first meeting” on June 15.

Councilman Randy Piazza Jr. on Friday said he understood the prohibition on recreational, adult-use sales to exempt The Apothecarium.

Councilman Harry Wyant Jr., however, said he supports The Apothecarium’s medical marijuana business but that he didn’t recall the recreational exception.

“I missed that myself because the whole intent was not to have them close as a result of this ordinance,” he said Friday.

Councilman Bobby Fulper on Friday said he understood the ordinance to exempt The Apothecarium from the ban on recreational, adult-use marijuana businesses. He had sought assurances during the June 15 meeting that The Apothecarium’s medical marijuana sales would be unaffected.

“If we opt out, it doesn’t hurt The Apothecarium and the way they conduct business currently, right?” he asked. “And the patients, they still get their medication when needed and we’re not standing in their way, right?”

Wenner said he was correct in both instances.

Councilwoman Danielle DeGerolamo could not be reached immediately for comment Friday. She had voiced concerns June 15 about recreational, adult-use marijuana businesses in Phillipsburg.

McVey said the future of these businesses in town would be discussed further at a council work session being scheduled for September.

The Apothecarium is owned by TerrAscend Corp.

“The Apothecarium loves being part of Phillipsburg,” Joe Pangaro, TerrAscend’s assistant general counsel for New Jersey, said in a statement Friday. “The final version of the ordinance allows the Apothecarium to operate as both a Medical Cannabis Dispensary and (eventually) a Cannabis Retailer, and we are very grateful that the residents, Council and Mayor have continued to show us their support.”

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com.