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Toms River Council Reverses Course on Pot Sales Ban

Hugh Giordano appeals to the Toms River Township council to reject an ordinance banning marijuana sales. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Hugh Giordano appeals to the Toms River Township council to reject an ordinance banning marijuana sales. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Toms River township council members on Wednesday unanimously voted to “indefinitely table” a proposed ordinance that would have banned the sale of marijuana inside the town’s borders, should the plant become legal for sale in New Jersey.

The public hearing on the ordinance, which was introduced last month, took over two hours and drew from a room packed with cannabis legalization activists who urged council members to reconsider their previous positions. The crowd consisted of a diverse array of mostly Toms River residents, with varying ages and backgrounds. The meeting was noticeably better-attended than similar hearings in some smaller Shore towns, with speakers including a labor union leader whose members would transport and deliver legal marijuana.

“The cannabis industry has created good, well-paying jobs,” said Hugh Giordano of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

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Giordano pushed aside the argument that marijuana could more easily fall into the hands of young people if it is legal.

“The Teamsters deliver liquor,” he said. “Do we see Teamsters giving out cases of beer or bottles of liquor every day? Of course not. Because they have a good job.”

Dave Lansing, a Toms River resident, said he is a Crohn’s disease patient and medical marijuana has helped relieve pain while avoiding taking a large amount of oxycodone he was prescribed. Lansing said a dispensary closer to home would improve his life.

“Right now, I have to drive two hours to purchase the medicine that keeps me out of the hospital,” Lansing said. “Heroin is the real problem here. Legalizing marijuana is the safe alternative, and it’s safer than alcohol. If we’re going to ban recreational marijuana, I want the liquor licenses and the cigarette licenses pulled.”

Another speaker, Laurie Singer, of Toms River, said the township has more licensed establishment that sell liquor – 54 – than the combined number of churches and schools in town. There should not be a double standard if marijuana is legalized, she told council members, after asking whether any members of the governing body had visited a dispensary in a state where it is legal. None said they had done so.

“No one on this council has ever been in a dispensary,” she said. “How can this council vote on dispensaries if you’ve never even seen one?”

Then, she said, there is the issue of revenue. In the bill most likely to become the blueprint for legalization, sponsored by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, towns are allowed to bar sales, though they would forfeit a percentage of tax revenue generated. Singer said Aurora, Colo., about double the size of Toms River, generated $16 million in one year alone.

Rory Wells, a former Ocean County assistant prosecutor, was one of just two speakers who supported banning marijuana sales.

“For me, I’ve been working in drug prevention for over a decade,” he said, expressing fear that allowing a dispensary in Toms River could give the town a poor reputation. “Your brand is something that you can destroy very, very quickly and it takes a long way to get back.”

Chris Goldstein, a professor who teaches a Marijuana in Media class at Temple University, traveled to Toms River from Philadelphia for the meeting.

“A ban on marijuana is discrimination against the cannabis consumers in your community,” he said, adding that he often enjoys fishing in Toms River, despite not being a resident. “That’s why so many people came out here tonight. A lot of people are paying attention to this vote tonight – what you do here tonight will reach out across the country.”

After the marathon public hearing, Councilwoman Laurie Huryk made a motion to table the ordinance indefinitely, or at least until the state formally legalizes cannabis and sets forth regulations.

Meanwhile in Trenton, there has been no movement on Scutari’s bill despite Gov. Phil Murphy’s promise to sign legislation legalizing possession and regulating the sale of marijuana within 100 days of taking office. The Scutari bill, which was reintroduced Jan. 9, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee but has yet to receive a hearing or vote.

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