TOMS RIVER – The Toms River Township Council discussed the first phases of prohibiting cannabis business and distributors in the town.
At a recent Township Council meeting, the council had the first reading of an ordinance that “prohibits the operation of cannabis establishments, distributors, and delivery services in the Township.”
Voters approved a referendum in November for legalization of recreational cannabis use. Legislation passed earlier this year gave towns 180 days to determine whether they would allow or ban cannabis-based businesses.
New Jersey separates cannabis businesses into six categories: cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distributing, retailing and delivery services.
“Municipalities can prohibit, allow or a combination of both. If we don’t decide then Trenton decides. By default, the sale can be allowed in certain commercial zones,” Township Attorney Anthony Merlino said. “If the ordinance is adopted, it will establish a blanket prohibition and give the township time to decide going forward, what the impact of this legislation is going to be and whether it is a fit or not for Toms River. Essentially what it comes down to is that we decide or Trenton decides.”
After a motion was made, Councilwoman Maria Maruca, Councilmen Josh Kopp, Matthew Lotano, Daniel Rodrick, Terrance Turnbach and Kevin Geoghegan voted yes to the ban; Councilwoman Laurie Huryk voted no.
“We have some of the best planners in the state of New Jersey and we have a very talented attorney and I think if we had given it a few weeks that we could craft something that would satisfy safety concerns, because of course there are safety concerns. But also honor the votes of the 64 percent of Toms River voters,” Huryk said. “Not Ocean County, not New Jersey, it’s 64 percent of Toms River voters who voted yes in November to legalize cannabis, that’s almost 32,000 votes. I think we need to consider that.”
“By voting on this we are not prohibiting this permanently, we are just trying to get our ducks in a row and do this a correct way that fits our citizens,” Lotano said. “Everyone is aware of the percentage in the last vote.”
“I’m a public school teacher. Frankly, I’ve seen drugs destroy a lot of families and it starts with people smoking a little bit of pot. I’ve seen it over many years and it’s sad to see and that’s why I can’t support this,” Rodrick said.
Many Toms River residents and those from bordering towns came out to the meeting to give a public comment and their opinion on the town prohibiting marijuana sales.
“We are missing out on millions of dollars… the Governor didn’t legalize it, we did when we voted. Don’t punish a whole industry. Stop saying it’s a gateway drug when the medical program says it’s an exit drug,” a Bayville resident stated. “The fact that residents said yes to this shouldn’t even be for debate, it’s not even a question. 64 percent, say no more.”
“Not only economically it’s going to bolster the town, it’s going to put money back into our schools. We will generate a great revenue,” a Toms River resident said.
“Although I voted against, other countries and states have seen a drop in crime after legalizing it…if it’s legal we might as well make some money off it,” a Brick resident said.
The final vote on the ordinance will be at a future meeting.
-Bob Vosseller contributed to this story