LACEY – Mayor Peter Curatolo said it was one of the toughest campaigns he had ever worked on, and he wasn’t even on the ballot.
The mayor was referring to the recently defeated referendum question asking township residents if they wanted to see Lacey develop a cannabis industry in the community following the legalization of recreational marijuana in a state ballot question last year. This year’s local ballot question led to some debate among the members of the all-GOP governing body.
Most communities in Ocean County have opposed having marijuana growth and distribution in their towns. Two members of the governing body, Committeemen Mark Dykoff and Timothy McDonald felt that the public had the right to weigh in on the issue and proposed a referendum question on this year’s ballot.
Mayor Curatolo has been a fierce opponent of having recreational marijuana sales and cultivation in the township and even a few days prior to Election Day, was speaking to seniors about the referendum during the regular seniors’ luncheon coordinated by the Lacey Municipal Alliance.
The mayor added, “in speaking at the Municipal Alliance Senior luncheon with Chief DiBella, there was a clear consensus to the ‘no’ side of the ledger regarding the referendum.”
The Alliance opposed having marijuana sales in the township months ago as did the Board of Education.
“It is remarkable to me the statewide attention that this has received. This was a pivotal vote in our town and I was all in but I was only one vote. The people, every demographic and in every location did this by standing shoulder to shoulder and saying ‘no’ in a unified voice,” Curatolo said.
“We were the only town in New Jersey that went out for a referendum on this issue and what I am most proud of is the fact that I provided a blueprint for other mayors and governing bodies to follow. I knocked on every door of our faith-based community, our seniors, our school leadership and many others,” he added.
The mayor said “the message was that it is a very different thing to have it grown and sold in our town. The people did this. I am here in their service and I am forever grateful.”
Curatolo, who works for the Ocean County Health Department, agreed with Police Chief Michael DiBella that opening up the township to a cannabis industry would generate additional crime and potential gang activity and require more police overtime which would negate any sales tax benefits that the township might gain from it.
“The truth is that gangs look for legalized recreational zones because they know that they don’t charge onerous tax rates so they move right in and undercut the prices at the dispensaries. I’m pretty certain that our residents don’t want to see increased gang activity,” the mayor added.
Mayor Curatolo said, “people believe that we can just zone a recreational marijuana dispensary or a grow into a specific section of town and that may not be the case. Once it is approved, it may be able to set up shop anywhere.”
“I encourage people to do their own research about Colorado and California. There is a lot of buyers regret in those jurisdictions. Currently in Colorado, the marijuana tax represents nine tenths of one percent of their total tax revenue. At the same time, their DUIs are up 151%, marijuana related hospitalizations are up 148% and violent crime increased 18.6%. Now why would we believe it would be different here?” the mayor asked.
Committeemen Dykoff and McDonald were both reelected to new three-year-terms on the committee on Election Day. Both shared their views with The Southern Ocean Times concerning the results of the referendum.
“The election results were a vindication of what I have said from the beginning, if the people had known what the law was when they went to vote in 2020, the legalization of recreational marijuana would not have passed. I was disappointed at the beginning when there wasn’t a unanimous vote from the township committee to put a very simple question that would let the people’s voices be heard,” Committeeman McDonald said.
He added, “once we were able to secure the majority vote on the referendum question, Mark and I agreed not to politicize this issue. We wanted the people of Lacey to decide this issue on their own. This is something that I cannot say for the rest of the committee.”
“When we were out campaigning, people, both pro and con recreational marijuana, indicated that they were very happy that Mark and I fought to have their voices heard on this issue. Mark and I received about 77% of the vote, which is very humbling, but is also an indication that voters are very happy with the work we are doing on the township committee,” McDonald added.
Committeeman Dykoff said he wasn’t disappointed about the results of the referendum question. “On the contrary, I am far from disappointed with the result of the question. The reason I advocated the referendum question was, that I wanted to ensure we gathered as many facts as possible as well as give the public further input based on the possible confusion about the original question.”
“The question put forth by the township was as simple as possible, and the residents were given the opportunity to voice their opinion. It was never about my personal opinion. What I am disappointed in is the politicizing of this issue as well as other members of the Township Committee trying to block this question on the ballot for fear it did not fit into their narrative,” Dykoff added.