FAIR HAVEN: TOWN TAKES UP POT DEBATE

Councilmen Bob Marchese, center, and Jon Peters, with Business Administrator Theresa Casagrande in foreground, at Monday night’s meeting. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Fair Haven officials mulled joining other towns in Monmouth and Ocean counties in opposing the legalization of recreational marijuana Monday night.

But the discussion was left unfinished, as council members differed over what specifically they would oppose of Governor Phil Murphy’s plans for legalization, and what they would find acceptable.

Murphy, a Middletown resident whose campaign promised to make pot legal in New Jersey to address social justice issues, has encountered resistance to the idea in his first month in office, even among fellow Democrats.

For the second time in a month, Fair Haven’s majority-Republican governing body took up the issue in the workshop, or planning, portion of its semimonthly meeting Monday. At the urging of Councilman Bob Marchese, the council debated whether to modify and adopt a measure passed by the Monmouth County Freeholders. That all-GOP body last month approved a resolution expressing unanimous opposition to the the legalization of recreational pot.

Marchese had backed away from a previous effort to limit dispensaries via changes to the zoning ordinance. With the adoption of a resolution, he said, “all Fair Haven would be doing is sending a message to elected officials up the food chain saying we opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana.”

Marchese expressed concerns about law enforcement’s lack of a metric, comparable to the amount of alcohol in blood, to determine impairment levels. And legalization, he said, would be “the wrong message to the youth of our state.”

He said he’d been misquoted elsewhere, however, regarding his position on medical uses for cannabis. “I would never oppose use of marijuana under medical supervision,” he said.

One council member called for more concrete action to effectively ban growing and sales, but another wanted to tap the brakes on any action.

“Why don’t we just do something where we say, ‘you can’t have a dispensary within one mile of a school or park’? It shuts it out,” said Councilman Eric Jaeger. “By our geography, that would keep it out.”

He called that approach “the path of least resistance to our goal, which is keeping [marijuana] away from our youth.”

Councilwoman Susan Sorensen endorsed the idea.

But Council President Jon Peters, who heads the finance committee, said “it’s a little presumptive to ban” sales without knowing the potential fiscal upside to the borough of permitting retail pot sales.

“If this change occurs, there may be revenue benefits to the town, and I think we have to move very carefully,” he said.

Mayor Ben Lucarelli suggested continuing the discussion at the next council meeting, slated for February 26.

“I think this is an issue that’s going to raise a lot of passions on both sides,” he said.

Jeff King, an Eatontown resident and legalization advocate, praised the council for being “open-minded,” and commended its members for “taking the time to gather facts and make up your mind.”

Other towns in the area have also taken up the issue. In October, before Murphy’s election, Shrewsbury’s council unanimously passed a zoning amendment that bans marijuana dispensaries. vape shops and a handful of other businesses, including tattoo parlors, pawn shops and gun shops.

Two months later, Point Pleasant adopted a ban that bans both recreational and medicinal pot shops, saying in the ordinance “that there is no area of the Borough which can safely house a business” selling either.

Middletown is taking preliminary steps to prohibit grow operations and sales within the township, according to a report Tuesday by the Asbury Park Press. So are Oceanport and West Long Branch, the newspaper said in a separate article published Tuesday.

Some Asbury Park officials, meanwhile, have expressed an interest in hosting dispensaries in the city, the Press reported last month.

Red Bank has yet to take formal action. But at the council’s January 24 meeting, Mayor Pasquale Menna said the borough should adopt a zoning amendment “that would prohibit the opening up, or the establishment of, head shops, such as the one that just opened on Broad Street,” as well as dispensaries, within a specified distance of schools and religious institutions.

The council is scheduled to hold its semimonthly meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m., but the agenda shows no proposed action on the issue.