Not Coming to Shrewsbury: Tattoo Studios, Gun Stores or Vape Shops

October 27, 2017
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By John Burton |

SHREWSBURY — The Borough Council has made it clear there are certain types of businesses it would rather not see in the community.

At its Oct. 3 meeting the council unanimously approved an ordinance that directly prohibits some businesses, while more clearly defining those unwanted, albeit legal, business ventures.

The ordinance denies the opening and operation of what it labels “alternative treatment centers” which the enacted regulation defines as “any commercial establishment engaged in the cultivation and/or distribution of medical marijuana, including cannabis-derived oils, tinctures and lotions; and related paraphernalia.” Body art procedure establishments – commonly known as tattoo studios – are barred, including those shops that offer “piercings, brandings and scarifications.” The ordinance also prohibits pawn shops or pawn broker establishments and prevents the sale or retail trade of firearms, explosives or ammunitions, “whether conducted in retail establishments or through home businesses.”

Included in the ordinance is a prohibition for the sale of electronic cigarettes, commonly called vapes, specifically denying “stores and shops primarily engaging in the retail or service of electronic smoking devises, liquid nicotine or vapor products.”

The ordinance defines an electronic smoking device as one “that can be used to deliver nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling from the device, including, but not limited to, an electronic cigarette, cigar, cigarillo, or pipe.” The ordinance goes on to offer definitions for liquid nicotine, electronic smoking device, liquid nicotine container and for a vapor product.

Mayor Donald Burden said the intention was to update an existing ordinance to clearly define what is prohibited, given some products are new to the market since the ordinance was first adopted. This move by the governing body “is really intended to support the quality of businesses in town,” Burden said. Shrewsbury is largely a higher-income, suburban, bedroom community, with a significant number of age-restricted housing complexes. Many of the commercial establishments in the borough are reflective of the community’s demographic, Burden explained, pointing to The Grove, an upscale shopping area, and medical services facilities.

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Someone had inquired about opening a “vape shop” in the borough but never applied for a development permit. Some of these businesses were popping up in surrounding communities and that caught the attention of the council, leading to the ordinance, according to the mayor.

“I don’t want to sound like a snob, but Shrewsbury is just not the place for it,” the mayor said, referring to the prohibited businesses.

In the spring a drug counseling facility, Seabrook House, opened in a largely residential area, raising a hornet’s nest of controversy, as residents demonstrated and protested, looking to disrupt the opening ceremony featuring Gov. Chris Christie. Some borough officials said they were unaware of the nature of the facility, which provides group and individual therapy sessions and does not distribute any medications. The facility did meet the requirements under current zoning and is operating. But Burden said the council wanted to fill any overlooked gaps in the ordinance.

However, Gregory Conley, Medford, president of the American Vaping Association, took exception to the ordinance. “We are all legal businesses that are attacked by often short-sighted local government,” he said.

The American Vaping Association is an advocacy organization for the availability of vapor products, Conley explained. He also said electronic cigarettes are seen by some medical organizations as a less harmful substitute to traditional tobacco cigarettes. “It’s absolutely absurd to forbid the opening of what can be accurately described as modern-day quit-smoking clinics,” he countered, “while at the same time allowing for new stores that specialize in the sale of tobacco products.”

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Edward J. Albowicz, head legal counsel for the New Jersey Vapor Rights Coalition, shared Conley’s objections to the council’s actions. “To arbitrarily ban our industry, and still allow tobacco businesses to operate within its borders, is not only discriminatory, but shows a complete lack of understanding by the Shrewsbury Council as to the positive impact vape products have had in lessening the public health crisis caused by smoking,” Albowicz said in an email statement. “It is unconscionable these local officials would deprive their constituents of this critical smoking cessation tool.”

Tobacco products may be sold in the borough.

This article was first published in the Oct. 19-26, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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