The Brick Township council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to ban the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana in anticipation of it becoming legal statewide. Officials lashed out at the proposed legalization effort and delivered a strong rebuke to state legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy as they made Brick one of the largest municipalities in New Jersey to pre-emptively prohibit dispensaries and farm operations.
The vote took seconds, but only after a marathon four hour-long public hearing that pitted marijuana legalization activists against a group of Brick residents who supported the ban. Most of the residents were neighbors of a proposed cultivation facility on Adamston Road, and several said they spoke out against the sale of recreational marijuana after being treated poorly by supporters of the medical facility.
While an unscientific poll on Shorebeat showed about 70 percent of readers opposed the ordinance, the majority of residents who spoke at the meeting were in favor a ban. Officials also turned their anger toward Trenton, making an argument that returns from tax revenue generated by allowing marijuana to be sold in town could be so low that it had the potential to cost Brick taxpayers rather than enrich the municipal coffers.
The ordinance prohibits the “retail sale, cultivation, manufacturing and testing of marijuana products for recreational use” in Brick Township.
“Cash goes in and highly valuable marijuana goes out,” said Michael Doumas, who said dispensaries could produce security concerns.
Other residents simply favored the continued prohibition of cannabis as a recreational product.
“There will be a proliferation of stoned drivers throughout our town,” saidMonica Rinaldi. “If recreational marijuana is allowed in Brick, we will have shops popping up in every strip mall.”
Allowing sales of legal, recreational cannabis “would send a message that ‘family first’ is no longer a priority for the governing body of this town,” said resident Josephine Fishbach.
Several speakers disagreed, including Jeffrey King.
“You’re touting ‘Buy in Brick,’ and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want people to buy this in Brick,” said King. “There are dispensaries in Beverly Hills. People are putting a lot of money and investments into these operations. We shouldn’t just think of this as some kind of bodega operation. If you can take care of the zoning, you can mold and shape how it would work in this municipality.”
Still others brought up the idea that, as in other states, recreational marijuana would likely be delivered from dispensaries in nearby towns, making a ban somewhat toothless.
Roxanne Jones, another Brick resident, opined that legalization as a whole could have negative societal consequences.
“We need to be sober and focused to become productive citizens and manage our affairs appropriately,” Jones told council members.
Council Lashes Out
All five Democratic members of the council voted against allowing recreational marijuana to be sold in Brick, even though Murphy, a fellow Democrat, campaigned on legalization and state Sen. President Steve Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat, said the legislature was on the cusp of voting for full legalization in less than two weeks.
Councilman James Fozman, a former Democrat who is now a Republican, also voted in favor of the ban. Democratic Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero was not present at the meeting.
It was the very deal that Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) hatched this week that drew the ire of officials, including Mayor John Ducey. The deal between the three lawmakers reportedly set a $42 per ounce flat tax on recreational marijuana, with up to 3 percent of the revenue flowing back to the town where it is sold or cultivated.
“We have a $100 million budget,” Ducey said. “If you take the $1 billion worth of sales that are predicted … 3 percent of that is $75,000, which is 0.003 percent of our budget in Brick.”
Ducey’s math assumed about 400 towns would allow sales statewide and revenue would be divided evenly. The mayor said the township itself could incur costs since it would be the taxing entity responsible for collecting its percentage. If most transactions took place in cash, it could require a police escort or security service to collect the tax revenue, he said. (State officials have said cash-only policies due to federal banking laws could be overcome by a state-run bank or a credit union run by a labor union that represents cannabis workers.)
“It could be less, it could be more, but it’s based upon the reality at this time,” said Ducey. “We’re not talking about $200,000 here.”
Councilwoman Lisa Crate jabbed back at cannabis legalization activists who said a prohibition on sales was a civil rights issue.
“In my humble opinion, if the state does pass this law, having people drive one town over to purchase marijuana is not an injustice – it’s an inconvenience,” said Crate. “It is an inconvenience that is appropriate considering the lack of benefits this bill will offer to individual towns.”
Township Attorney Kevin Starkey said one of his main concerns was the lack of flexibility in the land use aspect of the legalization bill up for consideration. Municipalities cannot pick and choose where the want dispensaries to be located, rather, they would be automatically permitted in all industrial and commercial zones. If a ban were not enacted, the township would not get another chance to pass one for five years, and any dispensaries or cultivators that opened during the interim would be grandfathered in.
“I would guess that nearly half the town is covered by retail or commercial zones,” he said. “All the highways, all the major roadways are for retail use.”
“If this bill is approved, and there is not a ban in Brick, you are actually going to lose your power to zone, especially for retail dispensaries,” Starkey warned.
Council President Andrea Zapcic said she read the entirety of the 160-plus page bill that is likely to be voted on later this month, and still favored banning sales and cultivation in Brick.
“If the town does not opt out, you’re automatically in, and you’re in for five years,” Zapcic said, adding that the bill under consideration by the state was “written by the cannabis industry for the benefit of the cannabis industry – not for the benefit of the citizens of New Jersey and certainly not for the citizens of Brick Township.”
“The state’s going to do pretty good,” she said. “But there is nothing in that bill that earmarks this money to come back to our schools, law enforcement or anywhere we need – it just goes into state coffers.”
“Here in Brick Township, if our costs exceed what we would bring in in tax money, guess who pays for that?” Zapcic asked. “You and me. And every other taxpayer in the town.”