Toms River officials voted down a measure that would ban all six classes of cannabis-based businesses allowed under New Jersey’s new marijuana legalization law, instead pausing to form a committee that will investigate such businesses’ impact on the community and what policies would best serve the township.
The council agreed to form the committee after a significant public showing against an ordinance that was originally intended to prohibit all types of cannabis businesses in town, though possession and cannabis delivery services remain legal statewide. The measure forming the committee drew the ire of Councilman Dan Rodrick, who refused to serve on the body, saying it was concocted at a closed door meeting to which he was not invited. His council colleagues, however, stated the discussion of the committee took place at the regular meeting of the council’s land use subcommittee.
Voters chose to legalize possession and sales of marijuana in the Nov. 2020 general election. In Toms River, about 63 percent of voters supported legalization, largely mirroring the state average. Ocean County already had the largest number of registered medical marijuana patients of any county in New Jersey before the vote was taken. Many local towns, including Brick, Lavallette, Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, have banned cannabis-based businesses by ordinance. South Toms River, however, will allow such businesses to operate.
“I believe that the residents may have been in favor of legalizing marijuana statewide, but I think if people were asked if they had to vote for recreational sales in Toms River they would not have supported that,” said Rodrick. “I vote no and I will not participate in the committee.”
Councilwoman Laurie Huryk, who helped form the committee, said it will consist of 11 members. The 11 members will consist of three elected council members, five resident volunteers who were chosen from those who submitted applications and resumes, plus the Toms River Regional school district’s substance abuse counselor and representatives from the Ocean County Health Department and Toms River Police Department.
The committee’s members will represent those in favor of allowing cannabis businesses as well as those opposed. The residents chosen to serve are Brice Morgan, Pat Healy, Heather Scannell, Doreen Burns and Skip Simon. Huryk and Council President Kevin Geoghegan will represent the municipal council – Rodrick opted out – and Township Planner Dave Roberts will serve on the committee as well.
The committee, Huryk said, will hear from a number of consultants, from local business owners, to advocates on both sides of the issue. A financial advisor will also participate.
The committee is tasked with conducting research, hearing testimony and producing a report or recommendation by mid-July. To the chagrin of municipal leaders across the state, all types of marijuana businesses will be automatically added as conditional uses in particular zones if they are not banned by ordinance by Aug. 21. Those zoning rules will not be able to be changed for five years if no action is taken by the deadline, and all businesses that open during the five-year time period will be permanently grandfathered in if a future council chooses to prohibit marijuana businesses. The deadline has led officials in many towns to simply ban all types of cannabis businesses and elect to sort the issue out once the deadline has passed.
New Jersey separates marijuana-based businesses into six categories, known as classes: cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distributing, retailing and delivery services.