LACEY – In a four-to-one vote, the Township Committee banned the sale and growth of marijuana in the community during their latest meeting.
The issue has been discussed and debated for months during prior committee meetings with the majority of the committee saying they needed more time to deliberate on the matter. The state gave municipalities in New Jersey 180 days to decide whether to allow sales, distribution, and other uses of the drug made legal recently.
Many Ocean County communities including Seaside Heights, Seaside Park, Lakewood and Brick have passed ordinances to ban the sale and growth of marijuana in their communities. Toms River is still considering such a move while Manchester recently voted to develop an ordinance modeled off a recommendation by the League of Municipalities to do the same.
Lacey’s five-member, all-Republican governing body is made up of Mayor Peter Curatolo, Deputy Mayor Nicholas Juliano and Committeemen Steven Kennis, Timothy McDonald and Mark Dykoff. Curatolo works for the Ocean County Health Department and called for Township Attorney (and 9th District Senator) Christopher Connors to draft the ordinance that bans the sale and growth of cannabis.
Curatolo is strongly opposed to cannabis growth and sales in town. Committeeman Steven Kennis had also committed to vote for the ban.
McDonald, Dykoff and Juliano have been researching and reviewing their positions on the matter. Dykoff and McDonald did not vote in favor of the introduction of the ordinance last month. An ordinance is introduced in one meeting and then adopted at another.
The township approved a similar ordinance in August 2020 that prohibited the sale of recreational cannabis. As Dykoff stated at a prior meeting, that ordinance became invalid after Governor Phil Murphy signed new legislation on February 22, 2021 that legalized recreational marijuana use for adults.
Dykoff and McDonald appeared to have surprised the mayor and the rest of the Committee with a proposal to have a referendum question on the issue on November’s ballot. McDonald read the question, “Shall the township of Lacey Township permit cannabis operations, cultivation, processing, wholesale distribution and delivery services within the township?”
“Mr. Dykoff and I have talked. We researched it and we came up with what I think is a legitimate compromise. The law is crystal clear. If you opt out, you can opt in at any point in time. We will agree to opt out now provided the rest of us vote for a referendum with this question and put it back in the people’s hands,” McDonald said.
“Had the people known what this law was they would not have approved recreational marijuana in November. I thought we’d get reasonable legislation. We got horrible legislation. We didn’t get defunding cops, we got much worse than that. We got taking their authority away and more than that – we got stripping parents of their rights,” McDonald added.
McDonald noted that a state commission on cannabis has until August 21 to produce and publish the regulations. “If we do put this referendum up, we will have very knowledgeable voters. Mr. Dykoff and I will stand by the results.”
The two officials attempted to put the motion up for vote on their referendum but the rest of the committee moved to discuss it further. Connors, who had not been consulted about it, said there were problems with the wording that needed to be ironed out prior to it being placed on the ballot.
Mayor Curatolo remarked, “opinions abound, facts are stubborn. These guys have been pro recreational marijuana since day one. Four weeks ago, I got a call from Mr. Dykoff, and he said ‘Pete you better get on the Democrat website. The Democratic Club of Lacey Township are all over marijuana and you better get with the program. This is what the people want.’ I don’t govern by Facebook or website.”
“You’re lying,” Dykoff said as the mayor was speaking.
“I listen to the testimony of the chief, the township doctor, the school board, the Board of County Commissioners. Everyone has stated that this is not a good idea,” Mayor Curatolo added.
Ultimately, Dykoff abstained from voting while the other Committee members voted to ban cannabis.
The Public’s Voice
The Township Police Department, Municipal Alliance and Board of Education support the ban.
The latest committee meeting filled the town hall and those in favor and those who opposed the ordinance appeared evenly split based on applause after people stating their opinions.
The public had a chance to chime in on what they would like to see happen in town.
Hugh Giordano, representing the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, said cannabis businesses could provide Lacey jobs that offer health benefits and good wages. He said, “these are good paying jobs because they are educated employees. Demonizing these employees is also an attack against labor.”
Resident Tony DeBacco said the ordinance goes against “the vote of the people.” The township voted 63-36% in favor of recreational marijuana in the referendum.
DeBacco said a vocal minority had been voicing their view at committee meetings and that the residents of the township don’t want to ban sales and manufacturing.
Among those who spoke in opposition to the ordinance was Debbie Motta of Galloway Township who has office space in the township’s industrial park and who hoped to start a medicinal marijuana dispensary that would include recreational marijuana sales.
Comparing sales of recreational marijuana to the issue of opioid use, she said, “if you are not going to offer something else to the people do you support the opioid crisis?”
“The two are completely different,” the mayor responded.
Resident Lincoln Gratton said he uses cannabis for medicinal purposes and was a recreational user prior to that. He expressed that the township should closely examine the financial benefits that allowing dispensaries in the community might have. “The black market (for cannabis) is thriving in this town right now. Why not take that money and regenerate it?
“See what you get out of it. The money that you could see from recreational sales alone is astronomical. I can’t see how this board can’t see that kind of income. I’m just asking that you guys wait until you get more information on everything,” Gratton said.
Lacey Democratic Club member Bill Stemmle, who ran unsuccessfully for a committee seat last year said “we didn’t really want to cause you guys to have any aggravation amongst yourselves but we were trying to point out that 63.7% of Lacey voters voted in favor of legal marijuana.”
Resident Dan Jensen, founder of Code 3 Outreach said “the average salary in the cannabis industry is $75,000 currently. That is not unheard of. I work with first responders and I educate on medicinal cannabis consumption. It is really a shame at this point that we are forced to come out as we have to defend an issue that we as a collective have already come out and declared in one voice – yes on question one.”
Ellen Vidal applauded the Committee’s decision to ban sales and growth of cannabis in Lacey. “As a former social worker, I have seen what has happened with black market sales. If you bring in legalized marijuana (sales) we are not going to see that revenue. We are going to lose it with our police. We are going to lose it with our services in the town. Our services are going to be spent taking care of all the other issues so think twice. Don’t sell it as a budgetary issue or a way to solve this town’s problems.
“I am a union person. I am a former union president but I am not for having marijuana sales in this town. You will lose the value on our homes,” she added.