WARETOWN – Though not an immediate change, local authorities have enacted an ordinance permitting an existing medical marijuana dispensary to incorporate adult-use recreational cannabis sales into its operations.
The ordinance gained approval with a 2-1 majority, with Mayor Ken Baulderstone opting to refrain from participating in the vote. Before this, Baulderstone had articulated his desire to defer the decision until the BLOC dispensary marked its three-month milestone. The dispensary officially commenced operations in early July and recently celebrated its opening.
BLOC is the first medical marijuana dispensary in Ocean County and is poised to pioneer recreational cannabis sales in southern Ocean County. The Social Leaf in South Toms River made its debut last month as the county’s inaugural recreational cannabis dispensary. Lakehurst is the only other town that is allowing recreational cannabis, but a facility there hasn’t opened yet.
The potential financial windfall from expanded cannabis sales played a significant role in the decision. Adding recreational cannabis to BLOC’s offerings is anticipated to increase the municipality’s tax revenue. The Township is set to receive two percent of all net sales from recreational cannabis and will continue to recover no share of tax revenue on medical marijuana.
“The South Toms River dispensary, which is a third the size of ours, did a million dollars of sales in six days,” shared Committeeman Dr. Ben LoParo. “This is amazing – they just cut a check to the town for $30,000 for the first three weeks they were in business.”
LoParo also noted that conversations with the South Toms River Chief of Police and the proprietors of South Toms River have not revealed any worrisome incidents. This remains consistent with the experiences of the local community since BLOC initially commenced operations.
Township Administrator Diane Ambrosio has also been proactive in seeking insights from counterparts in Ewing and Somerset, which have taken similar steps. Reports from these communities indicate positive experiences with cannabis businesses, casting them as responsible and cooperative neighbors.
Authorities have indicated that the financial strain faced by local government spurred exploration into alternative revenue sources. While a number of new businesses have recently opened in town, the pandemic has altered shopping habits and put a strain on traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Additionally, strict environmental regulations often limit tax revenue that could come from further development.
One of the driving factors behind this consideration has been the relentless climb in operational costs faced by the Township. Annual expenses, ranging from pension contributions to healthcare and insurance costs, have risen steadily.
The Township also shoulders the increasing rates imposed by the Ocean County Landfill and the escalating costs of garbage and recycling contracts. The recent revaluation, mandated by state government authorities, added an additional $50,000 to the budget for the next five years.
“Our ambulance squad now costs the township $210,000,” LoParo said. “This is something that will definitely be covered by cannabis tax revenue sales. We have to have an ambulance squad and find a way to take care of everything else that has considerably gone up in town.”
When the ballot posed the question, a significant majority of local voters expressed support for legalizing recreational cannabis. LoParo emphasized that this shift would boost tax revenue and ensure cannabis accessibility for all residents aged 21 and above in town.
Board of Education President Dr. Shawn Denning spoke during the public portion of the ordinance hearing and reminded local officials of past discussions.
“I understand you are entitled to two percent of recreational cannabis sales,” Denning said. “The school board previously adopted a position that if recreational did become approved here in town by ordinance, we requested at least consideration of splitting the two percent with us.”
Denning clarified that he wasn’t seeking an instant response but was formally entering it into the record. A ballot question passed by voters last November increased taxes within the municipality by $840,000 to offset school budget shortfalls.
Baulderstone acknowledged Denning’s request and moved on to inquire if anyone else had comments.
BLOC is required to adhere to stringent state directives to incorporate recreational cannabis sales into its operations, a process that could take up to six months. Individuals possessing medical marijuana cards will continue to receive utmost priority, with additional designated hours and separate lines within the dispensary. They will also retain access via the drive-thru window.