NJ Marijuana Legalization: Toms River Shelves Weed Sale Ban

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Proponents of legalized marijuana scored a victory Tuesday night when Toms River council members tabled an ordinance that would have banned recreational weed sales here.

The council voted unanimously to table the measure indefinitely after only one person spoke in favor of the ordinance during a nearly 90-minute public hearing.

Toms River residents, along with marijuana advocates from other towns, including Asbury Park, Eatontown and Gloucester Township, said the council’s move to ban recreational weed sales was premature and ill-informed.

Several residents who are battling chronic illnesses said marijuana has helped reduce pain and either reduce, or eliminate, their need to take opioid painkillers. They argued legalized weed could actually help curb the opioid epidemic here.

“It’s provided me relief, and given me the opportunity to be off narcotics,” said resident David Lansing, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder.

He said if the township bans recreational marijuana sales, “I want the liquor licenses and the cigarette licenses pulled from Toms River.”

Banning marijuana sales is also not necessary at this time since the state has not yet legalized pot, several residents said.

“There is no reason for this ordinance,” Marc Drive resident Peter Smith said. “Everything it prohibits is already illegal.”

Council members introduced the ordinance to ban recreational marijuana sales last month. The measure was suggested by Councilman George E. Wittmann Jr., who said legalized weed sales could create a “potential nuisance” in Toms River.

Wittmann, who is on vacation and missed Tuesday night’s meeting, has said he doesn’t think the township needs the revenue that would be generated by legal weed sales.

Councilwoman Laurie Huryk made the motion to table the ordinance, saying the decision will “allow the council to review emerging research” about weed.

“The ordinance is premature,” Huryk said. She said the council can revisit the matter “if and when” the state legalizes recreational marijuana.

Smith and township resident Alizar Zurojew urged the council to consider a November referendum that would ask residents if recreational marijuana sales should be permitted here.

Zurojew, the executive director of Downtown Toms River, the downtown’s business improvement district, said he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a representative of the BID.

He noted that the township could be giving up millions of dollars of potential tax revenue by banning weed sales in Toms River.

“We have time to do adequate research about whether or not this would benefit Toms River,” Garfield Avenue resident Laurie Singer said.

Gov. Phil Murphy made marijuana legalization part of his campaign platform and has pledged to sign a legalization bill within the first 100 days of his Jan. 16 inauguration.

Murphy, a Middletown resident, largely cited social justice concerns as his reasoning for legalization. Various studies have shown that black people are significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana use or possession, despite similar use rates among white people.

Several Ocean County towns, including Berkeley, Ocean Gate, Point Pleasant Beach, Seaside Heights and Lavallette, have either banned recreational weed sales or have said they plan to do so.

Last week, the county Board of Freeholders adopted a resolution opposing marijuana legalization in New Jersey, and Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little caused a stir when he claimed weed is more addictive than cocaine.

Little later said he was wrong to make that statement, which was met by widespread ridicule on social media, and was mentioned several times by marijuana advocates Tuesday.

One compared Little’s statement to the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film, “Reefer Madness,” which depicts a series of crimes, including rape and murder, which happen after drug dealers in the film give weed to unsuspecting students.

An October Gallup poll showed that 64 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, but not everyone is sold on the idea.

In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew an Obama administration policy not to interfere with state laws allowing people to use marijuana for medical or recreational uses.

Sessions’ decision will give U.S. Attorneys the ability to pursue marijuana cases, although it’s unclear if many would choose to do so.

Rory Wells, a former assistant prosecutor in the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, was the only person to speak in favor of the proposed ban on recreational weed sales.

In making his case against allowing marijuana dispensaries in Toms River, Wells cited everything from a likely increase in impaired driving by pot users to a concern that weed sellers could be potential crime targets.

Marijuana businesses are almost always forced to deal in cash, since most banks will not deal with money earned by pot sales.

“There are large amounts of cash and drugs on hand,” Wells said. “There are security concerns.”