The Toms River Township council on Tuesday night, in a split vote, acted to remove the Dec. 31 expiration date that had been placed on the township’s ordinance barring businesses that manufacture or sell recreational cannabis.
The council adopted a temporary ban because the state imposed an August deadline for towns to either prohibit or allow marijuana-based businesses in all commercial and industrial zones. Had the township not banned the businesses then, they would have been automatically permitted in those zones for five years under state law. After hearing significant opposition to a ban from residents, the council voted to place an expiration date on the ban, effectively giving themselves until the end of the year to decide on a permanent policy. They also formed a committee to make recommendations about such business in town. The expiration date, set for Dec. 31, was the subject of Tuesday night’s vote.
The council decided to introduce an ordinance repealing the expiration date, however doing so requires a public hearing and second vote. Councilwoman Laurie Huryk, who formed the committee, voted against the measure; Councilmen Terrance Turnbach and Josh Kopp abstained from the vote. The remaining members all voted in favor of introducing the ordinance.
The vote drew the ire of Huryk, who has advocated against enacting a full ban on cannabis businesses, and helped form the committee, which produced a report earlier this fall.
“It was composed equally of people who were for, against and undecided,” said Huryk. “We spent countless hours researching, educating one another and debating the issues. We met weekly over the course of months.”
Tuesday night’s vote came a week after two slates of Republican candidates were elected to the council, returning the governing body to all-GOP control, albeit separate local factions. Huryk, a Democrat, did not seek re-election. Turnbach was not successful in retaining his seat.
“This ordinance is a total lack of regard for not only my time but that of the volunteer citizens who served on that committee – and the 64 percent of Toms River voters who voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of New Jersey,” Huryk said.
Councilman Dan Rodrick, who received the highest number of votes in last week’s election, has spearheaded the effort against allowing cannabis-based businesses in town, holding that such a policy would create problems for residents and officials.
“There is no financial benefit for the township as the increased cost of public safety and higher auto insurance would far outweigh any revenue the town would receive as a result of legalizing the sales within the town’s limits,” said Rodrick.
Rodrick, echoing sentiments from other local leaders in surrounding communities, has long said that allowing cannabis-based businesses would generate miniscule local tax revenue while placing the township in charge of enforcing regulations on businesses that manufacture, process or sell recreational marijuana.
Council President Kevin M. Geoghegan left the door open to discussion before the end of the year, indicating he believes the public would be more supportive of medical marijuana businesses than recreational-based businesses.
“We have one more meeting where we can get this done,” said Huryk, urging her colleagues to “do better.”
The public hearing on the ordinance, followed by a second vote, is scheduled for Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.