TOMS RIVER – Marijuana businesses have been banned in Toms River, but township council members stressed that doesn’t mean that weed sales won’t be allowed in the future.
In addition to adopting an ordinance barring businesses that sell, manufacture and distribute weed from operating in town, the council on Tuesday also voted 5 to 1 — with Councilman Josh Kopp abstaining — to introduce a companion measure that sets a Dec. 31 expiration date on the weed business ban.
That will give Toms River’s cannabis committee more time to continue its discussions on whether to permit weed-related businesses in the township, and if so, to decide where they should be located.
The cannabis committee, which includes five residents, township Planner David Roberts, as well as representatives from the police department and Toms River Regional schools, has so far met three times, according to Councilwoman Laurie Huryk.
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Huryk, who supporting legalizing marijuana and has urged the council not to ban weed businesses, and Council President Kevin M. Geoghegan, who said he has not yet made up his mind on the issue, are also members of the committee.
“We are making some progress,” Huryk said.
But like leaders in other Jersey Shore towns, including Asbury Park and Howell, Huryk noted that the state has given towns an Aug. 21 deadline to pass an ordinance either prohibiting or, otherwise, setting up regulations for marijuana-related businesses. Otherwise the businesses will be grandfathered into existing retail and industrial zones.
She said the council had to pass the ban to maintain control over its own zoning if Toms River chooses to legalize marijuana businesses. The companion ordinance, which eliminates the ban on Dec. 31, is scheduled for a public hearing at the July 27 council meeting.
Adopting that measure will ensure the council addresses the issue before the end of the year, Huryk said.
“We weren’t going to accept the bill in its entirety,” Councilman Matt Lotano said of the state’s lengthy marijuana legalization law. He said the the council is “hoping to come up with a plan that is more geared towards Toms River.”
Councilman Daniel Rodrick, who opposes allowing marijuana businesses to operate in Toms River, voted against allowing the ban to expire. He said the council could always revisit the issue without establishing a concrete expiration date.
“I think Toms River is a family town, not a party town,” he said.
There appears to be at least some support among Toms River council members for medical marijuana sales, but it’s unclear if a council majority would favor recreational sales in town.
Before adopting the weed business ban Tuesday, the council had twice tabled ordinances blocking marijuana sales in town. A law banning weed sales was shelved in early 2018, more than two years before marijuana was legalized in New Jersey, while council members in May again tabled a similar ordinance.
In both instances, the council backed away from the weed ban after receiving pushback from residents, who said the governing body was out of step with what Toms River citizens support.
In Toms River, 63.7% of voters supported last year’s ballot measure legalizing weed for adults; statewide, 67% voted in favor.
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Some Ocean County towns, including Lavallette, Seaside Heights and Brick, have already banned marijuana businesses from operating in town; Berkeley’s council is scheduled to vote on a similar ban later this month.
Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 37 years. She’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle, email@example.com