BARNEGAT – Township officials are taking a stand against the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey, arguing “not in my town.”
At a recent township committee meeting, Barnegat Mayor Alfonso Cirulli delivered a lengthy call to action to residents to oppose recreational marijuana legislation.
The committee also passed a resolution to that effect at the Feb. 5 meeting. While the resolution clearly opposes recreational marijuana, it makes a point to state that the committee supports the use of medical marijuana for its health benefits.
After attending the 2019 NJ Conference of Mayors Winter Summit in Trenton on Jan. 31, Cirulli came back to town with renewed vigor to stand strong against Governor Phil Murphy’s endorsement of recreational marijuana.
While guest speakers and legislators covered a host of topics at the summit, from the inundation of Open Public Records Act requests to municipalities, to affordable health care, to affordable housing, Cirulli noted that “we all know a hot topic is the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
He cites major concerns that marijuana could trigger even more illegal drug use. While Ocean County remains in an opioid epidemic, Cirulli fears that recreational marijuana will only worsen the problem.
“We know that marijuana is a gateway drug, it’s also 20-24 percent stronger than the stuff that was available in the 60s and the 70s,” he said. “They’re [legislators] not thinking about the cost on our society and on our kids.”
A 2017 study by the NJ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services places marijuana as the third most popular “primary drug” by Ocean County users. Marijuana follows behind alcohol as number two and heroin at number one. According to the same report, Barnegat Township saw 334, or 4 percent, of substance abuse admissions in the county in just 2017, the majority of which were for heroin.
Cirulli credited the Barnegat Police Department Crime Reduction Unit for helping keep the township “ahead of the curve” when it comes to drug-related deaths and arrests. The CRU was launched in early 2018.
However, this does not stand for the entire county or state. The Attorney General’s NJ Cares project, “a real time dashboard of opioid-related data and information,” clocks in 294 suspected overdose deaths so far in 2019, as of Feb. 10.
In addition to continued drug use, Cirulli also expressed worry that state legislators have financial motives behind legalizing recreational marijuana.
“New Jersey is in dire financial straits,” Cirulli said, noting that legislators want to legalize the drug because they think they’re going to fill a budget hole.
While Governor Murphy is pushing for more, a recent bill proposes a 12 percent tax on the recreational drug.
“To me, that’s blood money,” said Cirulli.
Cirulli not only advocated against the drug to attendees at the committee meeting, but also to state legislators at the summit. He placed information about the negative effects of marijuana on adults and children on a table at the summit, which he said was quickly removed.
“I was told it wasn’t allowed,” Cirulli said. “They said ‘it’s [legalization] coming’; they didn’t want to discuss the pros and the cons,” but rather, “how to prepare for it.”
He also brought with him a petition against legalization bearing 900 signatures already, which was also “not allowed,” he said.
Despite some of the state officials representing more “forward-thinking” perspectives when it comes to recreational marijuana, Cirulli maintains that the drug is dangerous.
Cirulli urged residents to “call your legislators” and let them know that you are against the legalization of marijuana, making Barnegat one of many other Ocean County towns working to ban the use of the drug. Others include Toms River, Berkeley, Point Pleasant Beach, and Seaside Heights.