TOMS RIVER – It was quiet, business as usual at the most recent Ocean County Freeholder meeting until the public comment time, when discussion got a bit heated about pot.
Armed with smartphone video cameras, alarmist propaganda from bygone days, charges of racism and a bit of slander aimed at all parents everywhere, out-of-county residents took to the mic in support of legalized marijuana.
He secured his smartphone to the railing that separates the audience from the dais, and asked Freeholder director Gerry Little if he was in the shot. Great, he is. He then identified himself as Lefty Grimes, who does a “potcast” from the statehouse, and is a medical cannabis patient and activist. While he can afford to be in the program, which he called “a failed program from the start,” a friend of his, Armando, could not. Grimes got a call five minutes before he went up the mic that Armando had died. The outrageous price of cannabis from dispensaries forced his friend to get pot from the streets in Newark.
Grimes, from East Hanover in Morris County, said he visited the Black Caucus in Newark that day. The topic of the racist nature of the “drug war” against blacks and Hispanics was discussed, as was the push to keep hemp out of America. The name Harry Anslinger had faded from the public, but is well-known to those who call that war a farce. Anslinger was the first commissioner of the federal bureau of narcotics, and depending on which side of the argument one falls, can be thanked or condemned for his role in criminalizing marijuana. His Wikipedia page and the first Google hits were clearly written by those who aren’t fans of his work.
Grimes shared a few choice quotes, which to 2018 ears do sound hysterical, to say the least. Marijuana is the gateway drug to pacifism and communism, blacks thinking they are as good whites, and white women having sex with “negroes, entertainers and others.”
“This is garbage. We don’t think this way anymore. This is last century’s thinking, guys,” Grimes told the freeholders. But then the Freeholders said he crossed a line.
“Your parents lied to us. Your parents lied to you, and my parents lied to me about cannabis,” Grimes said. He was interrupted by Freeholder John Bartlett.
“Please don’t say that. Please do not say that our parents lied to us,” Bartlett said while Grimes continued that the government sold everyone lies about marijuana. “I will not sit here and have the [inaudible] who doesn’t live in this county tell me that my parents lied.
“Idiot,” Bartlett concluded.
Grimes said he and his group came to the freeholder meeting after learning of its passing a resolution supporting the ban of recreational marijuana sales in Ocean County.
“We’re here because we saw the ignorance of your council, this group right here. And it’s very ignorant, extremely ignorant, as you’ve been called out in the papers by a lot of people, I’m sure,” Grimes said. “I come from East Hanover. I come from a racist town. Okay? I’m telling you, they’re all racists up there. And I just spent time with black people and Hispanic people talking about racism, and how we’re dealing with this kind of stuff we’re dealing with every day as patients.”
After Grimes finished speaking, Freeholder Director Little said his board never opposed medical marijuana.
“Not when it was passed in 2010 by the New Jersey Legislature, and signed by former Governor Chris Christie, and we do not oppose it now,” Little said.
Grimes walked the Seaside Heights boardwalk with two friends back in May 2017. Their reading of the law is that medical marijuana users can light up where tobacco users do. The Seaside Heights police disagreed, and said Grimes and his friends had to leave the boardwalk. NJ.com described the exchange as civil, and that Heights officials are looking for clarification on that law.
At the freeholder meeting, several other cannabis activists had more pleasant exchanges with officials. One of them was Hugh Giordano of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 152, Mays Landing, a union that represents workers in healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and other public-sector jobs. The union also represents recreational and medical “cannabis workers.” He expressed concern over the freeholders’ stance on cannabis and the negative economic impact it can have.
Cannabis is a $7 billion industry, Giordano said, and by 2020 will have created 20,000 union jobs. The medical and recreational revenue streams continue to climb and will both be worth much more in coming years. It’s a revenue stream of taxation the freeholders simply cannot ignore.
His union trains employees to work in dispensaries. With such training, these jobs are safe, Giordano argued. Just as well-paid Teamsters don’t give out cases of beer, well-paid and regulated businessmen in the cannabis industry won’t give up a good salary and benefits to give away pot on the side. His union allows cannabis workers and dispensaries to go into their credit union.
Additionally, while health and law enforcements panelists say marijuana is a gateway drug and highly addictive, Giordano has studied he can provide that say it is not.
He urged the freeholders to visit a dispensary.
“Why don’t you talk to the small businessman and the workers in there and see how really trained they are,” Giordano said. “Please look at cannabis the same way you look at alcohol. If Teamsters can do it, United Food and Commercial Workers can do it too.”
Freeholder John Kelly invoked the Parkland, Fla. shooting, saying cries for banning gun sales are making the rounds. He asked Giordano if he was for or against that. While the issue to Giordano was apples to oranges, he does in fact support gun control.
“But don’t they make a lot of money? Don’t they pay a lot of taxes? And don’t they have a lot of jobs? And are they not regulated?” Kelly asked. They are, Giordano said. “Okay, but it’s still dangerous, correct? So I think we can agree that there is an industry here that creates jobs that some people feel is dangerous to a lot of people who become users of that.
“Just because something earns dollars and jobs doesn’t mean that it’s good for our country,” Kelly said.
Jonathan Carman will be stepping into the county’s juvenile detention center superintendence. He has three daughters with Type 1 diabetes, and although it’s managed and all three excel in athletics in school, he does have sympathy for the medical marijuana debate. But he sees the other side, when recreational use loses its fun.
“When you see what THC does to the prefrontal cortex to a 14-year-old who has been a chronic user, and you tell me it’s not debilitating, I take major umbrage with that,” Carman said at the mic after Giordano’s time. “I have seen it first hand.”
For states with legal use, the age to purchase can range from 18 to 21.
“And I would like to challenge any lawmaker who says to me, I want to legalize this, you’re going to let your 18 year old, whose frontal lobe has not developed, whose brain is still developing until their 25, you’re going to stop and inhibit that growth by chronic cannabis use, and you’re okay with that?” Carman asked. “’Ah, kids won’t get to it.’ Right. Cause they’re in my jail right now.”
Jeffrey King, Eatontown, said he is open-minded to what people say on the issue. He wore a green “Stay Calm, It’s Just A Plant” T-shirt. He said he understood that the freeholders don’t oppose medical marijuana, but wants to see them more encouraging of it.
“Sick people, people that are suffering and dying, need your help and your support and your compassion and your love,” King said. “There are a lot of issues out there that are complicated. This is one of them.”