Local Leaders Wary of Recreational Weed

February 5, 2018
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Fair Haven’s governing body doesn’t want to see recreational cannabis businesses along River Road. It’s one of a few Two River area towns contemplating how to regulate marijuana storefronts if its sale is legalized by Gov. Phil Murphy.

By Jay Cook |

Gov. Phil Murphy has said he wants to legalize marijuana within 100 days of entering office. Now that he’s been inaugurated, some local governing bodies are feeling the need to take a stance of their own.

Monmouth County is the first county in the state to take an official position on the controversial subject. Last week, the all-Republican Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a resolution citing their unanimous opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana inside the county’s 469 square miles.

“It’s just where we personally stand on it,” said Freeholder Patrick Impreveduto, the former mayor of Holmdel who was recently elected to the board. “I’ve been opposed to recreational marijuana use my whole life.”

The resolution, which was distributed to all 53 towns, details many of the board’s concerns. Among those are the amount of increased traffic deaths in Colorado since legalization began there in 2014, the inability for law enforcement to determine if a motorist is under the influence compared to testing for alcohol in someone’s system and a report detailing how prevalent dispensaries are in Colorado, which noted there are more medicinal marijuana centers than Starbucks coffee shops and more recreational marijuana outlets than McDonald’s restaurants in that state.

Impreveduto, who has worked in the education industry for over 40 years, said he’s seen firsthand the progression from marijuana usage to harder substances like alcohol and cocaine. He did emphasize that the freeholders are not against medicinal marijuana.

“We’re asking the local towns to pass the same resolution and tell the state legislators and the governor that this is not something that’s wanted, not only in Monmouth County, but in other parts of the state,” Impreveduto said.

Statements from local governing bodies regarding the drug have started trickling out of government meeting rooms in the Two River area. In October, Shrewsbury Borough passed an ordinance prohibiting businesses “engaged in the cultivation and/or distribution of medical marijuana,” along with other types of cannabis paraphernalia.

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Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna, a Democrat, said the discussion about what to do with marijuana dispensaries has already started in the borough.

He said Red Bank will look to adopt a law prohibiting “certain types of headshops and or similar institutions” from opening up “except in extraordinarily limited designated areas.”

That could happen as early as the next borough council meeting slated for Feb. 14. He said there would be discussions with the in-house planners to see where in Red Bank a recreational or medicinal cannabis dispensary could be allowed. But the options would be slim, he said. Menna doesn’t want to see those establishments near churches, schools, parks, in the downtown or in residential areas.

“If the state goes ahead with a legalization, I’m not necessarily sure it can be prohibited everywhere, if the legislature and the governor approve it,” Menna said. “So, then the question is, can you regulate it?”

Red Bank’s neighbors, Republican-led towns like Rumson and Fair Haven, are looking to craft their own local laws to prohibit any cannabis-related business from opening in town.

Fair Haven councilman Robert Marchese brought the issue up at a public workshop meeting on Jan. 22. The goal is to ultimately change zoning laws in town to prohibit smoke shops and cannabis dispensaries in the small riverside borough.

“You’re talking about banning something that’s already illegal,” Marchese admitted. “But everyone’s forgetting in this debate that marijuana is illegal pursuant to federal statue.”

He said a change to local zoning law has approval from Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli and could be passed soon. The borough is considering passing a similar resolution to the one from the freeholder board.

“It would not fit into the aesthetic of Fair Haven,” Marchese said. “I’m drawing the analogy of a high-end cigar/smoke shop in Manhattan.”

Marchese also said the actions proposed for Fair Haven would not prohibit the use of medicinal marijuana.

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Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl echoed those sentiments, saying his town could look to institute the law similarly passed in Shrewsbury. The main driving force, he said, is the negative impact it could have on the student body.

“We don’t have to talk too much more about the opioid crisis in New Jersey; we know it too well,” Ekdahl said. “Anything we can do to sort of chip in and help New Jersey with this crisis and protect our local schoolchildren, we really have to seriously consider doing it.”

But some in the pro-cannabis industry say these discussions are premature. Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association based in Trenton, said towns should be careful before passing any legislation.

Rudder, a former Republican mayor and state assemblyman, said he appreciates the concerns from local lawmakers, but he’s “done the research, seen the science and talked to the officials and I know factually that cannabis is significantly healthier for you than anything you’d find in a liquor store or certainly healthier for you than lots of things you would find in a pharmacy.”

New Jersey’s cannabis industry has the potential to generate significant revenue, Rudder said. His organization projects after one full year of legalization, the cannabis industry could be a $2 billion to $3 billion market, generate $300 million to $500 million in tax revenue and create 50,000 to 75,000 jobs directly.

The New Jersey CannaBusiness Association is hosting an educational seminar for local elected officials on Feb. 20 in Trenton where medical professionals, law enforcement and public policy professionals will talk about the benefits of legalized cannabis. He hopes it can begin to change some perspectives.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Rudder added. “It’s really going to come down to education.”

This article was first published in the Feb. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

Correction, Feb. 12: The online version of this article has been corrected to reflect Fair Haven councilman Robert Marchese’s statement about Fair Haven’s policy about medical marijuana. The borough would not prohibit the sale or use of medical marijuana.

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