Vernon Township

21 Church Street, Vernon, NJ 07462
Phone: 973.764.4055


Minutes: June 9, 2022

 YouTube video of the June 9, 2022 council meeting »

This Special Meeting of the Township Council of the Township of Vernon was convened at 6:00 p.m. on June 9, 2022 via Zoom Webinar and in the Vernon Municipal Center, 21 Church Street, Vernon, New Jersey with Council President Patrick Rizzuto presiding.


Adequate notice of this special meeting has been provided to the public and the press on June 5, 2022 and was posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building in accordance with the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-7. The purpose of the special meetings will be: to discuss Vernon Township’s Cannabis Ordinance and any other business that may come before the Council. Action May Be Taken


Council President Rizzuto led the assemblage in the salute to the flag.

Council President Rizzuto asked for a moment of silence for the terrible tragedy that took place in Uvalde, Texas.



Present were Council Members Natalie Buccieri, Michal Furrey, Brian Lynch, Harry Shortway and Council President Patrick Rizzuto. Also present were Mayor Howard Burrell, Business Administrator Charles Voelker, Municipal Clerk Marcy Gianattasio and Township Attorney Josh Zielinski. 


PUBLIC COMMENTS (For Current Agenda Items Only, Limited to 3 Minutes Per Person)

Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to open the meeting to Public Comments.

MOVED: Natalie Buccieri

SECOND: Brian Lynch

A roll call vote was taken to open the meeting to the public

AYES: Buccieri, Furrey, Lynch, Shortway, Rizzuto




Motion passed to open the meeting to the public.

Chris Dowling, I am here today on behalf of Sussex Cultivation LLC – a conditionally licensed cannabis cultivation company run by diverse team of local business owners, healthcare professionals, and a retired member of law enforcement. 

As Vernon taxpayers for 35 years, I was very excited with the possibility of building a cannabis cultivation site right here in the Vernon.  As early as 2018 – back when the state had only a medical cannabis program -- our team met with the township leadership and shared with them our vision, which included applying for one of very few cannabis cultivation licenses the state would approve.  In 2019, with the town’s approval and shared vision of economic development in the emerging cannabis industry, Sussex Cultivation was issued a formal letter of support from the township. 

In December 2021 this very council passed Resolution 21-283 endorsing, once again Sussex Cultivation for recreational cannabis cultivator license and its proposed location on a rural piece of underutilized property here in town.  With the Township’s support secured, we submitted our initial application to the state.  Just two months ago, after reviewing literally hundreds of applications, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission announced a limited number of conditional cannabis cultivator license awards.  Sussex Cultivation was among the select few businesses to receive a cultivation license award.

The next steps for us (and time is of the essence) is to submit to the state a complete application that includes documents addressing items that we believe are of importance to the township, some of the them are:

  • SOP (standard operating procedures) on Safety & Security Plans
  • Community Impact and Social Responsibility Plans
  • Environmental impact plan
  • Workforce & Job Development plan
  • Odor mitigation plan

The items above as well as many more will be carefully reviewed by the state before they approve any applications.  Given that our application has already been pre-approved thus our conditional license, we are confident that the final approval will be forthcoming. 

We were made aware that the Township Council is considering an amendment to its zoning ordinance regarding cannabis cultivators.  We are here today simply to support the Township in its efforts to settle upon a local laws and regulations that make sense for the community.  To that end, we note that our proposed location, previously approved by Resolution 21-283, is also appropriately zoned for cannabis cultivation under the proposed zoning amendments currently under consideration by this Council.

For us, Vernon Township has always been the obvious choice for our business.  It is a place with a rich agricultural history and a community deserving of the economic incentives and tax revenue of a burgeoning new industry.  Our commitment to Vernon has been unwavering for several years now, and we have continued to invest time and resources into what will hopefully become a long-term partnership.  We kindly ask that the Township consider our efforts to date as it continues to fine tune its policies to make cannabis cultivation a reality here in Vernon. 

Council President Rizzuto asked if a property has been purchased for this.

Mr. Dowling explained that they have a lease for the property.

Wale Ibrahim, I am part owner of Garden State Green Genetics, G3 for short.   G3 received its conditional approval from the CRC on or around April 12, 2022. We submit this comment in response to the proposed amendment to remove the words Farmland Assessed property from the Vernon Cannabis ordinance. After thorough review of the applicable State law, NJ Constitution and Vernon Cannabis Ordinance, it is evident that the language in the Vernon township ordinance is in direct conflict with the State Law and we request that this council vote to amend same based on the following:


NJ Statute Section 54:40A-66 - Conflicting Local Ordinances, Local Preemption states:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, local governmental units of this State shall not enact or enforce any ordinance or other local law or regulation conflicting with, or preempted by, any provision of this act or with any policy of this State expressed by this act, whether that policy be expressed by inclusion of a provision in the act or by exclusion of that subject from the act.”

N.J.S. § 54:40A-66.


 Under the New Jersey Administrative Code 17:30 adopted August 19, 2021 by the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, Subchapter 5.1 Municipal Authority, in pertinent part states:

“(a) A municipality may enact an ordinance or regulation as permitted pursuant to the particular municipality’s form of government, that is not in conflict with the Act or this chapter, and may amend such ordinance or regulation:

1. That establishes a numerical limit on the number of cannabis businesses, provided that  any such ordinance or regulation shall specify the maximum number of each class of license that is allowed within the municipality and for which the municipality has established a numerical limit.”

Moreover, NJAC 17:30 Subchapter 10 Cannabis Cultivator Authorized Conduct, subchapter 10.1(a) states:

“(a) In no case shall a cannabis cultivator operate or be located on land that is valued, assessed  or taxed as an agricultural or horticultural use pursuant to the “Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, “P.L.1964, c.48 (C.54:4-23.1 et seq.).”


 Vernon Township council adopted Ordinance 21-16, which states in pertinent part:

“Additionally, no more than two Cannabis Cultivators shall also be permitted in the McAfee Village Mixed Use Zone and in the R-2 Zone for any farmland assessed property on the northbound side of County Road 517.

Based on the foregoing, Township Council should vote yes to the proposed amendment to the ordinance for the following reasons:

  1. The current Vernon Township Cannabis Ordinance requires Cultivation facilities to operate on farmland assessed
  2. The State of New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission Regulations states that IN NO CASE shall a cannabis cultivator operate on farmland assessed property;
  3. It is impossible for G3 and Sussex Cultivation to operate, following the township of Vernon’s ordinance, without violating State regulations thereby causing a conflict of laws;
  4. Where there is a conflict between state and local regulations, the law of preemption applies;
  5. Here, the state occupies the field by inserting the words IN NO Case. In no case is interpreted to leave no room for exception to this regulation and therefore preempts Vernon Ordinance 21-16 as it relates to farmland assessed property; and
  6. If the council decides to amend the ordinance to allow for additional cultivators, it should specify a number as simply using the word unlimited in an ordinance is also preempted by State law pursuant to NJAC 17:30 Subchapter 1(a)(1).

Mr. Ibrahim stated that he purchased the property and they have a conditional license.

Peg Distasi – Vernon Township, does not believe that there should be an unlimited number of licenses.

Thomas McClachrie – Vernon Township, supports expanding the growth areas from two if it will bring down property taxes.

Council President Rizzuto asked for a motion to open the meeting to Public Comments.

MOVED: Brian Lynch

SECOND: Harry Shortway

A roll call vote was taken to close the meeting to the public

AYES: Buccieri, Furrey, Lynch, Shortway, Rizzuto




Motion passed to close the meeting to the public.

Mayor Burrell commented saying, Mr. Council President and other members of the Council, my comments are part of my efforts to first, keep us focused on the document that that led to this special meeting - - that being Ordinance # 22-11; and to second, offer my strong request as Mayor that the Council take two specific actions, in regard to Ordinance # 22-11, that was successfully introduced at the May 9 Council meeting.

My first request is that the Council approve Ordinance # 22-11 as it was introduced; and …

My second request is that the Council then act to address any concerns that were created by the May 19, 2022 recommendation from the Land Use Board.

Let me explain the reasons for my two requested actions.

My request that the Council approve Ordinance # 22-11 as it was introduced is due to 10 important facts:

  1. Fact # 1, this ordinance came about only as a result of our Zoning Official taking a more detailed look at our ordinance that permits Cannabis Cultivator Licenses to be used in our town.

During that more detailed look, she discovered in this ordinance some minor, but consequential, wording that would require two companies, Sussex Cultivation and Garden State Green Genetics, both of which have been awarded a conditional Cannabis Cultivator License by the State of New Jersey, to seek costly, lengthy, and time sensitive exemptions in order to use the properties that they have already purchased or leased, specifically to use for their Vernon cannabis cultivation operations.

  1. Fact # 2, prior to Sussex Cultivation and Garden State Green Genetics finalizing their purchase or lease of these properties, the municipality told them, both verbally and via resolutions of support, that these properties were fully acceptable to the town, be used for their planned Vernon cannabis cultivation
  1. Fact # 3, prior to providing Sussex Cultivation and Garden State Green Genetics resolutions of support, the Office of the Mayor and the Council toughly reviewed the credentials that they presented, and found them to be the type of high-quality business organizations that we would welcome as cannabis cultivators in our town.

Their high quality as business organizations has been confirmed by the State of New Jersey, as evidenced by the fact that while there were hundreds of organizations applying for the limited - - that is just 34 - - Cannabis Cultivator Licenses that the State of New Jersey would be granting, they were two of the 34 that were issued Cannabis Cultivator Licenses by the state.

  1. Fact # 4, the Cannabis Cultivator Licenses that’s issued by the State of New Jersey are conditional licenses, that require the conditional license holder to meet very specific and challenging conditions within 120 days from the date that the conditional license is issued. If the conditional license holder fails to meet any of the specific conditions within the 120 days’ time frame, the conditional license holder forfeits their right to be issued an annual license to operate as a Cannabis Cultivator.
  1. Fact # 5, the two Cannabis Cultivator License holders who have planned to operate in Vernon Township were issued their conditional licenses on April 11, 2022, this means that they have only until August 9 of this year to meet all of the conditions needed to maintain their licenses.
  1. Fact # 6, these conditional Cannabis Cultivator License holders must provide the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission a host of documents before the 120 days expire; for example, just 12 of the many required documents are the following:
  • An Environmental Impact Plan;
  • A Safety and Security Plan;
  • A Community Impact, Social Responsibility and Research Statement;
  • A Workforce Development and Job Creation Plan;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Quality Control;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Recordkeeping;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Waste Disposal Sanitation;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Cultivation;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Accounting and Tax Compliance;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Secure Transport of Cannabis;
  • Their Standard Operating Procedures for Reporting of Test Results for Cannabis; and …
  • A letter from the Municipal Zoning Official confirming that the property that was listed in both, the conditional Cannabis Cultivator License Holder’s Resolution of Support from the Town Council, and their application to the in the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, is properly zoned for cannabis cultivation.
  1. Fact # 7, these two conditional Cannabis Cultivator License holders have advised that they have all but completed the documents listed above, with their major concern now being the difficulty getting the required letter from the Vernon Township Zoning Official.
  1. Fact # 8, in order for the Vernon Township Zoning Official to be able to provide the required letter, she needs the minor, but consequential, wording in our Cannabis Cultivator ordinance corrected, and Ordinance # 22-11 will do just that.
  1. Fact # 9, these two conditional Cannabis Cultivator License holders spent months of time, and hundreds of thousands of dollars applying for these very competitive Cannabis Cultivator Licenses; in fact, while the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission had expressed its intent to issue only 37 conditional Cannabis Cultivator License during this first round, the standards were so high, that they only issued 34 of these licenses, and the two organizations that want to use their licenses in Vernon were two of those 34.
  1. Fact # 10, our town committed to these two companies that if they were successful in getting a Cannabis Cultivator License, that the properties that they purchased or leased could be used for their cannabis cultivator operations.

We must keep that promise, and approving Ordinance # 22-11 will allow us to keep that promise within a time frame that will allow these two companies to keep the licenses that they have worked so hard and paid so much to earn.

My second proposal is that after the Council approves Ordinance # 22-11 as it was introduced, they then take whatever amount of time they need to address their concerns created by the May 19, 2022 recommendation from the Land Use Board.

We must keep our word; and we must not bureaucratically loose this opportunity to gain these additionally needed business tax dollars!

This does not have to be complicated; let’s just do it!


Cannabis Ordinance

Attorney Josh Zielinski explained that there are three options for the ordinance;

  1. The Council can reject the ordinance that is on the agenda for 2nd reading on Monday in which case the prior ordinance would be the effective ordinance with respect to cultivation.
  2. The Council could approve the ordinance that is on the agenda for 2nd reading on Monday night and that would become the new ordinance.
  3. At the meeting on Monday night or a later meeting, the ordinance can be amended and reintroduced.

Mr. Zielinski also explained that that this situation is not unique to Vernon. The rollout of the cannabis legislation was not particularly smooth. The State did not provide guidance to municipalities except to say we are going to let you regulate zoning for cannabis but nothing else. Also, Mr. Zielinski noted that the Council is not bound by the Land Use Board’s recommendations.

The Township Council discussed amending ordinance 21-11 at their meeting on June 13, 2022. The ordinance will be amended and reintroduced with the requested changes.


At 7:10 pm Council Member Lynch made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Seconded by Council Member Buccieri.

All were in favor.

Respectfully submitted,
Marcy Gianattasio, RMC, CMR
Municipal Clerk      


Minutes approved: June 27, 2022


Vernon Township

21 Church Street
Vernon, NJ 07462

Phone: 973.764.4055 

Township Hours

Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Emergencies Dial 9-1-1
Non-Emergencies Dial 973-764-6155


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