Brick Township council members on Tuesday night formally introduced a preemptive prohibition on the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis should it be legalized in New Jersey.
The tense council meeting came with heightened security. Attendees had to pass through a metal detector manned by police officers before entering the council chamber and several officers were stationed in the room throughout the meeting, which lasted about two and-a-half hours. (Since the meeting ended, township officials have said the security screenings will be utilized at every meeting from now on, and coincidentally began at Tuesday’s meeting.) The meeting remained civil, with no outbursts or arguments breaking out between those on either side of the issue. Through a slew of public statements made by both legalization advocates and those in favor of prohibition, the tell-tale smell of marijuana permeated the room. After the meeting was over, a police officer was seen asking several people for identification as they smoked cannabis outside. Many of those outside the municipal building spoke during the proceedings and said they were medical marijuana patients.
The introduction of the ordinance faced pushback from numerous members of the audience, ranging from everyday citizens to the organizer of a union whose members securely transport and deliver legal cannabis. The introduction of the ordinance was not unanimous, as Councilman Jim Fozman abstained, saying he had not been given minutes from a land use committee meeting where, apparently, the matter had been discussed previously. Shorebeat was later forwarded an message, however, indicating that an e-mail with minutes was sent to council members Monday. Councilman Paul Mummolo was absent.
The ordinance’s introduction came just a few days after a Monmouth University poll showed strong support for the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey. The poll, which was released Feb. 18, showed 62 percent of respondents favored legalization for personal use, the highest since Monmouth began tracking support several years ago. In Brick, debate over the ordinance began earlier in the day, when Mayor John Ducey hosted a Facebook Live question-and-answer session and was asked about the impending measure by constituents. The mayor indicated he did not find a great level of support in town for the presence of dispensaries.
“When I’m out at basketball games, going to senior villages, speaking and doing Facebook Lives, there are a lot of people who are not interested in having these places in the town,” said Ducey, elaborating that dispensaries would not fit in with the “family” characteristics of the township’s business community.
Ducey said the township has been working to attract new businesses, including the forthcoming sports dome at the former Foodtown site and new physical fitness establishments.
“Opening up these kinds of stores in the same plazas as a [dispensary] doesn’t seem to be something the council would like to do in our family atmosphere here,” he said, of dispensaries.
Ducey, who as mayor does not vote on ordinances, has long held the position that ordinances allowing or prohibiting the cultivation or sale of recreational marijuana should not be enacted before the state legislature approves a bill that is signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy. But he said Tuesday that the township’s ordinance is reflective of the language in the legalization bill that is most likely to be sent to the governor’s desk and would not have to be re-introduced and adopted if passed.
The most ardent opposition came from Hugh Giordano, a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
“I consider this ordinance to be an attack on the working class, on our labor union, and on good jobs,” Giordano said. “These are jobs that create a new economy for Brick, for New Jersey and the country. Keeping it banned in this township will only increase the black market.”
Union custodians at cannabis facilities earn $18 per hour, bud tenders and technicians earn $21 per hour and lead growers are paid up to $2,100 per week. The industry, Giordano said, includes both blue collar and white collar positions. Having a dispensary in town could limit the reach of the black market, he argued.
“We don’t see Teamsters out there giving out Budweisers to kids, do we?” he said. “No, because they have good jobs and are well-trained.”
Another member of the public echoed Giordano’s concerns about satisfying the demand for recreational cannabis if there is no legal way to obtain it in town. Jeffrey King, of Eatontown, told officials that in all likelihood, out-of-town businesses would simply deliver to Brick – providing the same product but denying the township a portion of the taxes that would be generated through sales.
Edward “Lefty” Grimes, a well-known cannabis activist, said prohibition had roots in racism and should be abolished.
There were also a number of speakers who supported the council’s move to enact a ban.
Stephen Reid, the mayor of Point Pleasant Beach who is a paid lobbyist for an anti-legalization group, said he commended the council’s action.
“I wanted to come here and commend all of you for putting your residents and your children first,” he said. “There are over 70 towns that are saying ‘no,’ and the more they learn about recreational marijuana, the more they are coming out against it.”
Reid’s view was countered by some speakers who said a lack of dispensaries in Brick would lead to a thriving black market.
Brick resident Roxanne Jones said she did not want recreational marijuana being sold in her community.
“A substance abuse problem is a substance abuse problem,” she said. “It’s not fun and it’s not good.”
Future Debate Coming
Tuesday night’s vote was an introduction of the ordinance. In order for it to become part of the township code, a public hearing must occur and a second vote must be taken by the council. That hearing and second vote is scheduled for March 12 at 7 p.m.
Fozman, who abstained, suggested the council consider a referendum to let the community decide. Ducey, in the past, also floated the idea of a referendum, however it is not yet something the township council has considered.
“I know that the mayor has mentioned it, but we really haven’t had any discussion as a group,” Council President Andrea Zapcic said, when asked after the meeting about the possibility of a referendum rather than a council vote. “My understanding is that referendums have a cost associated with it, so we’d have to walk it back and see if it’s even conceivable to do that.”
Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero, who voted in favor of the ordinance, indicated there would be room for reconsideration over the next two weeks.
“We’re not here to make a decision that we want, we’re here to make a decision that you want,” she told the audience. “You have the ability to come to the meeting March 12 and give your input. I urge everyone to share what’s in your head, what’s in your heart, and what’s good for your town.”