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Green Origins Solution Cannabis Store Approved To Switch Locations

Feb 08, 2024
701 North Mini Mall Harrison NJ

The Harrison Planning Board's decision to approve a cannabis store at the 701 North Frank E. Rodgers Blvd Mini Mall, facilitating a change of location from its originally approved location on the other side of the Town of Harrison on South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd, has sparked controversy and concern among residents and others. This shift in location, endorsed by Mayor James Fife, raises questions about the impact of cannabis stores on communities, particularly regarding their proximity to schools and potential bad influence on children. 

Residents attending the meeting expressed that the location was not ideal for a Cannabis store due to its proximity to local schools; the already poor traffic flow at the location where the Borough of East Newark’s main street Sherman Avenue and North Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. meet at the point where the Town of Kearny ends and the Town of Harrison starts, and the effect on the children of Harrison in particular the children who live in the residential community across the street from the proposed location, the 701 North Frank E. Rodgers Mini-Mall. The appearance before the Harrison Planning Board was necessary because Mayor James Fife & Council agreed to the applicant Green Origin Solutions' request to move the location from the previously agreed location on the other side of town in the Redevelopment Zone. The Mayor & Council approved two Cannabis stores to be located in the Southern part of Harrison where there are no public schools and no lack of parking courtesy of the ability to park in the Harrison Parking Garage.

Detrimental Effects of Cannabis on Teenage Brains

Research underscores the detrimental effects of cannabis on the developing teenage brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have published findings indicating that marijuana use during adolescence can lead to long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain. This includes cognitive impairments, structural and functional changes in the hippocampus, and an altered reward system that increases the likelihood of using other drugs.

These changes are particularly concerning because the teenage brain, especially the prefrontal cortex responsible for judgment and impulse control, is not fully developed until around the age of 25.

The legalization and increased accessibility of recreational marijuana has led to heightened concerns about its use among teenagers. A study from Columbia University found that teens who use cannabis recreationally are significantly more likely to develop psychiatric disorders, such as depression and suicidality, compared to non-users. Moreover, there's an increased incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis among users, marked by severe paranoia and confusionā€‹

Furthermore, a longitudinal study in New Zealand linked persistent marijuana use starting in adolescence to a decline in IQ points measured in mid-adulthood, a finding that was significant even after adjusting for various confounding factors. This suggests that early and frequent cannabis use can have long-lasting effects on cognitive abilities.

Proximity To Schools

The presence of cannabis dispensaries close to two local schools, the East Newark Public School and Harrison’s Lincoln Elementary School,  and a residential area makes cannabis seem less harmful than it used to be to teenagers.  Recreational cannabis stores may also normalize its use among this vulnerable age group not necessarily from the store itself but from illegal sources of cannabis. New Jersey Cannabis Law states that nobody under 21 years of age can legally purchase recreational cannabis but it appears that teenagers are purchasing it illegally. The New Jersey Cannabis Law also says you cannot smoke Cannabis in public but most of us have seen persons including teenagers smoking it in public.   

These developments call for heightened awareness and preventive measures to mitigate the potential impact on adolescents. Open, honest conversations between teens and adults about the risks associated with cannabis use, and the importance of mental health, are crucial steps in safeguarding the well-being of young individuals in communities where recreational and medical cannabis is legal and accessible.

The debate in Harrison reflects broader concerns that are relevant to communities nationwide as they navigate the challenges posed by the legalization of recreational marijuana. It underscores the need for careful consideration of the placement of cannabis stores and the importance of community engagement and preventive education to protect vulnerable populations, especially teenagers, from the potential adverse effects of cannabis use.

Residents & Mayor of Kearny Carol Doyle Spoke At Meeting

To their credit, residents of both Harrison and Kearny including the Mayor of Kearny Carol Jean Doyle attended the meeting and raised the issues of traffic, security, and the effect on the perception of children that would normalize the use of cannabis.  The substitute Planning Board Attorney dismissed the traffic issue as not being before the Board because there was no change in use. The prior use was a Bar.  The application before the Board was a Recreational Cannabis store. The impact on traffic from a Bar versus a Cannabis store is different.

No Traffic Study

The Board did not require that the applicant provide a traffic study.  Anyone who traverses the area around the 701 Mini Mall knows that traffic is heavy at the intersection and because the Mall is on a dead-end street there is only one way in and out causing backups already. The Applicant stated that customers to the store will be in and out in less than 10 minutes because most customers will be placing orders online. There was no provision to require traffic control to be part of the approval either by the Mayor & Council or the Harrison Planning Board. The Applicant assured those in attendance at the meeting that lines of people would not be lining up for the store because there were plenty of cannabis stores now in New Jersey.

Public Participation

Milagritos Martes and Melanie Ryan, among others, voiced apprehensions about the impact on traffic, the safety of children, and the general appropriateness of a cannabis business so close to educational institutions and residential areas. The Mayor of Kearny, Carol Jean Doyle, attended the meeting and objected to the proposed Cannabis store which is right on the border of Harrison and the Town of Kearny. An attorney representing the Town of Kearny objected to the meeting going forward noting that there was improper notice of the meeting to residents within 200 feet of the proposed store.  Counsel for Green Origin Solutions responded that there was proper notice and adequate time for review by the Town of Kearny.  The Harrison Planning Board without any further question decided to proceed despite the objection.

The testimony elicited during the proceeding revealed a concerning lack of depth in addressing the potential negative impacts of Green Origin Solutions LLC's proposed cannabis retail store on the local community of Harrison and neighboring East Newark and Kearny.  The discussions around traffic, customer flow, and parking considerations, while important, seemed to gloss over the broader societal implications, particularly the normalization of cannabis use.

Insufficient Consideration for Traffic and Customer Flow

Despite assurances that traffic "are not going to be detrimentally affected," the planner's testimony does not fully consider the possible long-term increase in traffic and its implications for the local community. The estimated customer turnaround time, suggested by the principal of Green Origin Solutions, Om Patel to be five to seven minutes, raises questions about the adequacy of parking and the increased flow of people, potentially leading to a more congested and less family-friendly environment.

Overlooked Parking Issues

The claim that the existing parking of 40 spaces is sufficient overlooks potential peak times and the impact on other businesses. The assertion that the lot remains more than half empty might not hold true with the introduction of a high-traffic establishment like a cannabis store, possibly leading to parking shortages and inconvenience for other shoppers.  There was no issue with parking in the prior proposed location in the Harrison Redevelopment Zone as there is a Parking Garage owned by the Town of Harrison within walking distance of the original location for the Green Origin Solutions cannabis store near the Harrison Path Station.

Questionable Operational Commitments

The applicant's pledge to work with the Harrison Police Department is commendable but does little to assuage fears about the normalization of cannabis use among teenagers and young adults. This collaboration, while focusing on immediate operational issues, fails to address the long-term societal impact, particularly the risk of increasing cannabis use among vulnerable groups.

Lack of Consideration for Community Engagement

Although the principal of Green Origin Solutions, Om Patel stated a desire to be a good neighbor, the applicant's approach does not seem to fully confront the potential for the cannabis store to serve as a focal point for normalizing cannabis use. This normalization could have a profoundly negative impact on teenagers, who may perceive the store's presence as an endorsement of cannabis use, potentially leading to an uptick in usage among this impressionable demographic.

In a critical reassessment, the testimony during the proceeding underlines a concerning oversight in evaluating the broader implications of introducing a cannabis retail store into Harrison. The emphasis on operational efficiency and regulatory compliance, while necessary, sidesteps the crucial conversation about the store's role in normalizing cannabis use and its subsequent effects on the local community, especially the younger population. This oversight points to a need for a more nuanced discussion on how such establishments can responsibly coexist with community values and the well-being of its younger members.

Public Participation Was Significant

Melanie Ryan, a resident of Kearny, NJ, voiced significant concerns during the public comment section of the meeting regarding the proposed cannabis retail store at 701 North Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard. Her questions and statements focused on traffic impacts, proximity to local schools and parks, and the potential for increased cannabis accessibility in the area.

Ryan highlighted the store's proximity to local schools and parks, noting that the soccer field and elementary school in East Newark are just 1/10 of a mile away from the proposed location, and West Hudson Park entrances are 3/10 of a mile away. She questioned how the expected customer turnover rate of 20 customers per hour would not affect traffic patterns, especially compared to other businesses like restaurants where people stay longer.

She expressed skepticism about the application's consideration of traffic impacts and the adequacy of parking facilities, especially in light of rumors about another cannabis dispensary opening nearby. This, she feared, could lead to major traffic problems at the intersection. The rumor on social media is that the Borough of East Newark will be authorizing a cannabis store in the former Valley National Bank building directly across from the 701 North Frank E. Rodgers Mini Mall.

Ryan also raised concerns about potential enforcement issues regarding traffic patterns and parking, questioning whether the business would have someone controlling the parking lot traffic or if this responsibility would fall onto the police department.

Her testimony reflects a deep concern for the potential community impact of the cannabis store, particularly regarding traffic, safety, and the proximity to local schools and parks, indicating a need for careful planning and consideration of local infrastructure and community well-being.

Mayor Carol Jean Doyle of Kearny made a statement during the proceeding, focusing on the concerns Kearny has regarding the application for the cannabis retail store. When confronted with a statement from a Harrison resident that the residents of Harrison had not been noticed about the building of the Walmart Store in Kearny before it was approved. Mayor Doyle clarified that the Hackensack Meadowlands Commission approved the Walmart in Kearny, not the town itself, emphasizing that Kearny had no role in that decision.

Mayor Doyle acknowledged that some concerns from Kearny residents had been addressed, but others remained outstanding. She stressed the need for collaboration to resolve any future issues, highlighting the opposition from parts of the Kearny community, including the Municipal Alliance and Kearny Prevention Coalition. Mayor Doyle suggested postponing the application to conduct a traffic study, reflecting her cautious approach to the development and its potential impacts on Kearny.

Unanimous Approval

The Harrison Planning Board unanimously approved the Cannabis store without any discussion among the members or questions for the applicant’s principal or those testifying on behalf of the applicant   If Mayor James Fife had opposed the change in location the applicant would have had to open a store in its original approved location in the Redevelopment Zone where parking would not have been an issue nor the exposure by children to potential cannabis consumption in public on their way to local schools.

Would It Be So Bad to Put Harrison Residents First

One wonders if, would it be a bad thing if Mayor Fife put cannabis business owners second and Harrison residents first.  Would a traffic study be such a bad thing? If done properly, it would have shed light that this location is not an ideal location for a cannabis store.  A cannabis store near the Harrison Path Station is in a location where parking is readily available.  The parking in the neighborhood surrounding the 701 North Frank E. Rodgers Mini Mall is terrible, especially at night.  The Origins Cannabis store plans to be open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and shorter hours on Sunday as the current Town of Harrison Cannabis Ordinance allows so any overflow or avoidance of parking in a Parking Lot that is hard to get in and out of and parking in the street will impact residents who are already overburdened with the lack of parking in the northern part of town.   Mayor James Fife has no plan to address the lack of parking and no foresight to oppose the switch in location of Green Origins Solutions which is going to further compound the lack of parking in town.

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