An ordinance that bans businesses from the sale, distribution, cultivation and facilitating the use of recreation and or medicinal marijuana was approved on second reading by the Township Council at Monday’s meeting.
The ordinance amends the land development code’s “prohibited use” section to include “businesses selling, distributing, cultivating, growing and/or facilitating the sale and/or use of either recreation and or medicinal marijuana, including any ancillary or related paraphernalia.”
Six council members voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilman Tony Paskitti voted against the ordinance, while Councilwoman Edina Brown and Councilman John Murphy III abstained.
Paskitti said he would vote no because “I don’t think we have enough information on this subject matter.”
Murphy said he abstained mainly because of medical marijuana, which he said “helps a lot of things.”
He added that the council right now voted on nothing, but instead voted on something to come.
Councilman Mark Razzoli said the reality is marijuana is illegal.
“Right now in this township we have a situation with opioids,” he said. “You cannot introduce marijuana to the equation. We are prohibiting marijuana here because we are thinking of our children. At the end of the day, my job and the job of everybody on this council is to protect the residents of Old Bridge and that’s what we are doing.”
“This does not prevent us from in the future allowing medical marijuana dispensaries,” Councilman Dave Merwin said. “What this does is protect us when the does maybe approve this and that’s a big maybe.”
He said this is the township’s opportunity to get in front of it.
“We decide where these things are going — nobody else,” Merwin said. “We protected the residents of Old Bridge Township. If we need to readdress it we will. Until such time the state decides what it’s doing, this will be banned in Old Bridge.”
Councilwoman Debbie Walker said “it is banned federally from smoking it.”
“I’m OK with medical marijuana use, I just don’t agree with dispensaries,” she said. “I feel it should be distributed through pharmacies.”
Council President Mary Sohor said she believes it was the right way to go.
“The basic thought was to protect the town and protect the children and that’s how I felt,” she said. “It wasn’t about the medical marijuana. There are ways to dispense medical marijuana.”
A resident questioned how the council could make a decision before the state creates guidelines.
At the March 12 meeting, the council unanimously requested that the township’s land development code be amended “so as to provide a safe environment for all of the citizens of Old Bridge in response to recent suggestions of legalizing the use and sale of marijuana in the state,” according to the ordinance.
The legalization of marijuana was one of the issues Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, ran on during his gubernatorial campaign
“We feel that marijuana is a gateway drug,” Walker said. “If Gov. Murphy wants it in his town — fine. He can have it in his town, but we don’t want it here.”
Walker said she and Council Vice President Dr. Anita Greenberg-Belli, both of whom are Republicans, met with township police to get their input.
“They were in agreement with us that we should ban the sale of marijuana in Old Bridge,” Walker said.
The topic has been met with mixed emotions in communities.
The Bridgewater Township Council passed a resolution earlier this month opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana. Councilman Matt Moench told mycentraljersey.com that the resolution was “an important first step” in sending a message to the state legislature that Bridgewater is opposed to marijuana legalization “and will not allow marijuana within our borders.”
The Spotswood Borough Council also adopted a resolution strongly opposing the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey.
“We believe such legalization is a great risk to our citizens’ quality of life,” the resolution reads. “The true impact of legal recreational marijuana is only beginning to be heard.”
The resolution also says that it may be the wrong time to legalize marijuana.
“At a time when society is battling many drug addictions and abuse, it is no time to increase access and provide another drug avenue for our youth and young adults to experiment with,” the resolution states.
In Linden, Mayor Derek Armstead also said he is not interested in recreational marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Other politicians in the state have said they will welcome weed stores within their towns, but most are taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding how they will address the issue.