By Chris Rotolo |
OCEANPORT – On the eve of “Weed Day,” an international holiday for cannabis consumption, the Borough Council took a stand against marijuana sales and production within its own borders.
At Oceanport’s April 19 council meeting, the governing body voted 5-0 to approve an amendment to an ordinance that prohibits the launch of any business engaged in the growth or sale of medicinal and recreational marijuana or paraphernalia in any of the borough’s zoning districts, including its section of Fort Monmouth.
Council president Joseph A. Irace said the ordinance was a preemptive movement to counteract future development plans for borough property that might coincide with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s stated intentions to legalize marijuana.
“The problem with the way it’s set up now, these dispensaries are anywhere from 150,000- to 300,000-square-feet facilities, and that sort of construction kind of doesn’t fit in the borough of Oceanport,” Irace said. “If it does pass (at the state level) recreationally, these types of businesses just don’t fit with the complexity of our town.”
Oceanport now joins Rumson as the second Two River-area town to ban recreational and medicinal cannabis businesses. Other towns have also acted: Fair Haven will vote on a recreational business ban in May and Shrewsbury passed a medicinal cannabis dispensary ban in December.
Irace admitted that he and the council recognize the medical benefits of cannabis, which is why they passed a coinciding resolution that night urging Congress and the federal government to change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug.
“With the resolution we’re asking that, for medical use, it be downgraded to Schedule II, which would allow it to be sold in a pharmacy, where we think it should be sold,” Irace said. “We recognize that it has medicinal value. That’s why we passed a concurrent resolution to the ordinance. But we don’t think those large-scale facilities are right for Oceanport.”
Prior to the vote, three impassioned speakers addressed the council, telling of the hardships they’re currently facing and how the cannabis ban would impede their therapeutic progress.
Oceanport resident Jeffrey Oakes is a cancer patient who was about halfway through a 46-hour chemotherapy infusion. Too weak to stand, he sat in a chair to speak before the council.
Weary from a lack of sleep due to his treatments, Oakes spoke about the politicization of his medication and the difficulties caused by a lack of access to marijuana.
“This anti-cannabis parade has created problems for myself and a lot of other patients behind me,” Oakes said. “The efforts of (Murphy) have been to make changes that facilitate better access and lower pricing. But ordinances like this really handcuff (patients). And a lot of us don’t have time. A lot of us are in pain. I’m dealing with cancer. I need this stuff. You guys are interfering with my medicine and a lot of other people who deserve better access to it.”
Susan Viana also lives in the borough and pleaded with the council on behalf of her son, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, a painful, chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the digestive tract. Viana has been treating her son’s ailment with cannabis oil, a proven medical remedy for the disease that she said has allowed her son to enter remission.
However, like Oakes, Viana says gaining access to cannabis oil is difficult, forcing her to perform the oil extraction process in her own home.
“If this vote didn’t happen tonight, if marijuana wasn’t banned in Oceanport, it would allow for safer and easier access to my son’s medication,” Viana said. “Bottom line, I shouldn’t be forced to make this stuff in my own kitchen. It should be made and regulated in a government lab and properly manufactured, like anyone else would get their medication. Safe access is all I want.”
Middletown resident and founder of Monmouth County Cannabis Advocates for Responsible Education (C.A.R.E.), Vincent DiGioia-Laird, stepped before the council just days after the death of a friend from an opioid overdose.
DiGioia-Laird discussed how his past opioid addiction to the pain reliever Oxycodone, which he began taking for a back injury, led to heroin addiction.
According to DiGioia-Laird it was cannabis oil that helped him kick the habit, and he believes that, through proper education and outreach, it’s a tactic that can help save the lives of many local residents caught up in the heroin epidemic sweeping through Monmouth County.
“Tonight’s vote proves one thing and it’s that they don’t care one bit about the opioid epidemic or the people caught up in it,” DiGioia-Laird said. “All we were asking tonight was to shelve the vote and take a little more time to talk. I don’t want to see recreational passed right now, because it’s going to ruin the medical program. Fix the medical first.
“But they won’t even table it, to talk to real people like us who have experience,” he added. “Go take a tour of a dispensary. Sit down with people who are actually dying of cancer, of opioid addiction. These diseases and addictions are killing people in our community and this council wants to do nothing about it.”
Mayor Jay Coffey did not have a vote on the ordinance but does believe it was a hasty measure, stating, “Until it’s legalized, I voiced my opinion that I thought (a vote) was premature. But it was a prophylactic measure. It could have been done six months ago or six months from now. They chose to do it now.
“I haven’t met the person that is against medical marijuana applications, so I think what these people came up and spoke about tonight has a lot of credence,” Coffey added. “The gray area is when you start talking about dispensaries and the grow houses. We don’t mind medical use but should it be sold in downtown Oceanport?”
This article was first published in the April 26 – May 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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