NJ Marijuana Legalization: Wall Expected To Ban Weed Farms, Dispensaries

Photo Credit: Mathew Sumner

Another Jersey Shore town is expected to preemptively ban marijuana sales as state legislators continue to debate whether New Jersey will legalize marijuana.

The Wall Township Committee is set to vote on an ordinance banning any business that sells marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia. The ordinance would also ban marijuana farming or manufacturing within the 32-square-mile town.

The committee meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the township municipal building on Allaire Road.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing for us to be a part of,” said Deputy Mayor Kevin Orender, a former narcotics officer with the New York Police Department. “It’s still federally illegal, so why are we allowing this state-by-state.”

Especially at the Jersey Shore, towns have pushed back against marijuana legalization by banning the sale of the drug within their limits. Point Pleasant Beach started the trend in December, but other towns quickly followed suit. Berkeley, Lavallette, Seaside Heights,Oceanport and West Long Branch have all discussed anti-weed measures.

Middletown and Toms River introduced ordinances to ban weed sales, but held off making a final decision until the Legislature actually puts forth a marijuana legalization measure.

Only a few cities — notably Jersey City and Asbury Park — have vocally announced their support of legal weed, with city officials saying they’d welcome a dispensary.

Marijuana legalization advocates have long compared marijuana to alcohol: If a town issues liquor licenses to restaurants and liquor stores, why shouldn’t dispensaries be allowed?”

“It’s just as much of a concern,” Orender said. “Time heals a lot of wounds, but we’re having a hard enough time with DWIs and drunk driving. How are we going to stop people from smoking and driving?”

Orender, 57, said he’d seen medical marijuana provide powerful relief for patients: “Maybe we should have legalized that years ago,” he said. But when it comes to recreational marijuana, “it’s just going to be so tough to control.”

Gov. Phil Murphy made marijuana legalization part of his campaign platform and has pledged to sign a legalization bill, with cannabis experts expecting a bill to be passed before June 30.

Murphy, a Middletown resident, largely cited social justice concerns as his reasoning for legal weed. 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.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll last month showed that 42 percent of New Jerseyans supported legal weed, while 26 percent want the drug decriminalized. A Gallup poll released in October showed that 64 percent of Americans supported legal weed.

Cannabis industry experts still expect marijuana legalization to gain the support of legislators, though a number of legislators have come out against full legalization. A bipartisan group, led by Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, introduced a bill last week that would decriminalize the drug, hailing it as a middle ground.

“I think this whole legalization stuff needs to slow down. This is a money bill. I don’t want to be a part of that,” Rice said earlier this month.

Legislative estimates have said that the chief plan under consideration, with a 25 percent tax rate on marijuana sales, could bring in about $300 million in tax revenue and save more than $100 million on law enforcement costs.

Under that plan, towns that ban marijuana sales wouldn’t see a dime of pot revenue.

“They haven’t even ironed out that part yet,” Orender said.

Marijuana still remains illegal on a federal level. In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew an Obama administration policy not to interfere with state laws governing marijuana.