Christian Velasquez doesn’t want to drive an hour to Elizabeth to pick up his medical marijuana, especially since the state legalized its recreational use last year.
A medical marijuana patient since 2018, Velasquez uses it to managespasms and anxiety. As a user and enthusiast, he has big plans to bring the billion-dollar industry to Dover despite a temporary ban to block cannabis businesses in his hometown.
“You know we’ve been victimized for years for cannabis,” said Velasquez, 28, a cannabis advocate. “This brings an opportunity to residents in my hometown. You can open up a business and I really want Dover to embrace that because, you know, Morris County doesn’t have any dispensaries.”
After more than half the New Jersey voters passed the adult use of recreational marijuana, the state has given municipalities until mid-August, six months from when Gov. Phil Murphy officially legalized it in February, to decide whether they will allow sales within their borders or pass an ordinance to ban it.
Last month, Dover’s Board of Aldermen introduced an ordinance to temporarily ban marijuana sales and businesses in town to give them time to develop rules and regulations.
Velasquez fears the ban will become permanent.
Morris County medical marijuana users have teamed up to raise awareness about the use of the plant and launched a petition to bring cannabis businesses to Dover.
“A bunch of other advocates spoke against the ban at the town meeting and [officials] clarified that it was going to be a temporary ban because you know they need to figure it out,” Velasquez said. “But what do they need to figure out?”
If municipalities miss the August deadline, growing and selling will automatically be permitted for a five-year period. Morristown, Randolph, Parsipanny and Mendham are working to craft an ordinance before August. Dover officials said they are exploring options.
Velasquez said he has reached out to Dover aldermen to help educate them about the industry and introduce them to patients like himself, who rely on marijuana to manage medical conditions. Velasquez has also offered officials a tour of a dispensary as an example of what Dover could welcome.
“As a patient, I’m looking for quality. I’m looking for small craft cannabis,” Velasquez said. “Cannabis that has been loved by people that love the plant.”
Currently, only 13 dispensaries are open in the state, from 10 operators, to service the 100,000 registered medical marijuana patients.
Last weekend, his team of marijuana advocates hosted a community “burn-up” clean-up event after Mayor Carolyn Blackman asked for volunteers for Dover’s own community clean-up. His team, comprised of East Hanover resident Edward “Lefty” Grimes, Jennifer Kaden, a Randolph resident and marijuana edibles baker, and best friend Chris Almada hosted the event and circulated their petition. They made signs that said, “honk for free weed” and gave out free marijuana joints as an incentive for people to join.
Their goal, Velasquez said, is to establish the presence of the cannabis community in Dover.
“We had people coming up, we were educating them telling them what we want. We want cannabis in Dover,” Velasquez said.
Love for cannabis
His love for cannabis started before a car accident caused the back spasms and anxiety he experiences today. Velasquez started using marijuana as a teen as a “fun habit.” He was arrested several years ago after Mountain Lakes police found an empty bowl inside his car. He was asked to provide a urine sample and tested positive for THC. As a result, Velasquez was given a DUI and has found it difficult to pay his fines and find a job, he said.
“I got fines and I had no money to pay them so I couldn’t really go to college. I went to Lincoln Tech because of a scholarship contest,” said Velasquez who graduated with an electrical engineer degree. “Even when I graduated I couldn’t find a job because I had a DUI.”
He now works for an engineer who helps cannabis businesses set up electrical wiring and lighting for their storefronts. He’s thankful for the opportunity he received but hopes the industry would keep evolving to break down stigmas.
“The only reason it’s legal now is because people have weighed against the government and they’ve grown it in their house and they’ve healed themselves,” Velasquez said.
He credits marijuana for allowing him to finish school and go to work every day. Velasquez has also joined activism efforts in Trenton with other advocates including Grimes and NJ Weedman. He said he would continue to advocate for marijuana businesses in his hometown and across Morris County.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully people listen,” Velasquez said.
Jessie Gomez is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com and NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.