By WILLIAM CLARK
The Ocean Township Council approved a measure allowing licenses for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, wholesaling, distribution and retail sales.
The vote skimmed by 3 to 2 in support with Mayor John Napolitani, Deputy Mayor Margie Donlon, and Councilman David Fisher voting to approve the measure.. Councilman Rob Accera and Councilwoman Kelly Terry voted no.
Two licenses each will be available for cultivation and manufacturing. Only one license each will be available for wholesale, distribution and retail sales.
Napolitani said during his comments at the beginning of the meeting that Ocean Township voted overwhelmingly in favor of the 2020 New Jersey ballot question to approve recreational cannabis use. He said that the township saw a 85 percent voter turnout that year where 65 percent voted to support the measure. Ocean’s results almost mirrored the statewide 67 percent vote in favor of the questions.
Now, after neighboring towns Neptune and Eatontown have opened recreational cannabis shops, Ocean has now joined them.
Before the council cast their votes, several members of the public spoke in favor and opposition of the ordinance.
Accera spoke from the dais disapproving how the ordinance came about, saying that the issue should have been given the gravity that other issues such as deer management have been afforded in the past.
“We don’t always plan thoroughly and intend to jump the gun on a number of important votes,” he said. “I think marijuana could be added to that list.”
Accera said he wanted experts and other authorities to present to the council and the public regarding the effects of cannabis use, both positive and negative.
In addition, Accera highlighted the difference in language between the state referendum and the ordinance the council voted on saying that the state language merely approved the use. The feelings of the community would need to be heard regarding the allowance of sales and purchases of cannabis within the town.
A motion to withdraw the ordinance from Accera did not receive a second from the other council members.
Discussion also took place regarding the tax revenue that the town would see from allowing the businesses to operate.
Accera said increasing the supply in the market would drive down prices which would lead to a decrease in tax revenue.
“Right now the cost of an ounce of recreational marijuana is $300,” he said. “But we cannot base our projections on that number since again, it’s only going to go down.”
Former Deputy Mayor Rich Long, who also opposed the measure, said before marijuana was legalized advocates said it would reduce violent crime. He said that was false.
“Indeed, the first four states to legalize marijuana, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington witnessed market increases in aggravated assaults and murder,” he said in statement. “Sadly, many government leaders ignore the risks of marijuana use.
He also said the taxing situation for pot is so difficult to predict that Nevada, California and Colorado have been forced to change their tax collection policies when it comes to marijuana sales.
Napolitani said the ordinance was not rushed as the governing body has been discussing how to handle the issue for years.
The necessity for the ordinance now, he said, in addition to reflecting the will of the people, is to increase revenue streams.
“There is the potential of a significant revenue stream for the township of Ocean,” Napolitani said. “We have contractual obligations to our police, public works and everybody else that works in town.”
The first recreational retail sales licenses were approved in the spring of 2022 in New Jersey. New Jersey’s 35 point spread in favor of its ballot question was one of the highest states where it appeared on the ballot, tied with Maryland’s 2022 result.