Pot advocates persist at committee meeting

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Wall Township Municipal Building

WALL TOWNSHIP — For the fourth consecutive township committee meeting, a small group of pro-marijuana advocates persisted in their plea to the governing body to reconsider its decision to ban commercial marijuana sales in Wall Township.

Holding signs and chanting “Weed for Wall” outside of the municipal complex, a group of about eight residents and nonresidents welcomed the committee and public as they entered last Wednesday’s meeting in the municipal building.

Wall Township moved to ban the commercial sale, production and cultivation of marijuana by ordinance at the May 26 meeting of the township committee, whose members unanimously approved the measure.

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The ordinance replaced a similar ordinance the committee had adopted in 2018, which needed updating due to recreational marijuana legalization this year.

The state granted each municipality 180 days from the day of  legalization to pass laws banning commercial marijuana sales. That deadline is this Aug. 21. Towns that do not pass any legislation before that deadline cannot ban commercial marijuana sales for five years. After five years, municipalities have another 180-day period to ban or permit commercial marijuana sales.

While two-thirds of New Jerseyans voted in favor of recreational marijuana at the ballot last November, a majority of municipalities across the state have joined Wall Township in banning commercial marijuana within their town lines.

Keith Hunsinger, of Wall Township, advocated for a marijuana dispensary in Wall Township, saying it could be beneficial to the police department by offering security jobs for retired officers, as well as adding a two percent sales tax on marijuana sales to fund police resources.

“It would decrease the illegal market of drugs and make it easier for cops. We can make their jobs easier by putting them in less extreme circumstances. It would be safer for the community,” Mr. Hunsinger said. “Cops can work on crimes with actual victims.”

He thanked the committee for the opportunity to continue speaking on the matter.

“I hope to continue this dialogue. I think it’s been going pretty well so far,” he said to the committee.

Lincoln Gratton, a Wall Township resident and medical marijuana patient, also once again asked the committee to reconsider its ordinance. Mr. Gratton had stormed out of the previous committee meeting with frustration, after discussing the same issue. 

Jeffrey King, of Eatontown, said he is fighting for greater medical access across the state, including homegrown marijuana, which is not permitted under the New Jersey legalization law, which he described as “a slap in the face from Trenton.”

“This is not my first time here. I was here before the law was passed and we pleaded for you not to do your pre-emptive ban,” he said. “We’re looking for more help with medical [marijuana] access; that is our focus. 

“It puts you all [the committee] in a hard position: to want to have a ban, but still patients have no chance. I’m sorry that the towns have no guidance from the League of Municipalities …”

“There is tax revenue to be made here … Keep your mind open to it. You don’t want Amazon dropping it off with drones,” he said.

Edward “Lefty” Grimes, a voracious marijuana activist from Bayonne, addressed the committee and at one point described the committee as being “worse than the Taliban” for “refusing to give military veterans their medicine” by not allowing opportunity for a medical marijuana dispensary to operate in town.

Mr. Grimes emphasized he was solely present to support medicinal marijuana access.

Jennifer Arden drove two hours from Randolph to the committee meeting to show her support for medicinal cannabis. Ms. Arden is a patient who uses medicine for her PTSD as a sexual-assault victim and for her pain resulting from a spinal fusion. 

“I have to drive 90 minutes to my nearest dispensary to get my medicine,” she told the committee.

Wall Township Deputy Mayor Dan Becht, who met briefly with the group outside of the municipal complex before the meeting, said that the township is simply not yet prepared to have a commercial marijuana facility, medicinal or recreational, at this time.

“I understand the concerns and what I want to try to suggest and emphasize is it’s not the current administration that is completely opposed, it’s that everything is brand new,” Mr. Becht said. “We have to evaluate it; figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

Committeeman Kevin Orender told the activists “I have nothing against medical marijuana whatsoever” and that he’s seen it work, but that right now a commercial marijuana business is not something Wall Township is ready for.

“We’re just the gatekeepers, that’s all,” Mayor Tim Farrell said.

The next Wall Township Committee meeting will be on Wednesday, July 28 at 7 p.m. at the municipal complex, 2700 Allaire Road.

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