BRIGANTINE — Residents and cannabis activists debated a proposed recreational marijuana ban in the city May 2 at City Hall.
City Council introduced an ordinance last month that would prevent recreational marijuana shops from popping up on the island because it classifies the sale of recreational marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia as “prohibited uses” in the Land Use chapter of the city’s code.
The ordinance was introduced to get ahead of state legislation that would legalize the possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for people 21 and older.
Introduced in January by state Sen. Nicholas P. Scutari, D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union, the bill is still pending technical review by legislative counsel.
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Those who support the city’s ordinance said they believe a ban in Brigantine will protect children from gaining access to an intoxicating substance.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who moved from Rhode Island to Brigantine, expressed concern at the meeting that recreational marijuana sales will increase the amount of underage cannabis users.
Kennedy, a father of five, argued marijuana retailers will emulate big tobacco companies and use marketing techniques to target children.
“An industry that has a profit motive will target young users because they know that they’re the next generation of consumers of their product,” he said.
Kennedy also highlighted the other forms recreational marijuana can take, including edibles and elixirs.
He provided photos that depicted the packaging of certain THC-infused products sold in other states, which had names that refer to popular breakfast cereals such as “Chronic Toast Crunch” and “Captain Munch.”
“I don’t want our children to have to be bombarded by the kind of misrepresentation that can only come from a business and an industry that is designed to make money,” Kennedy said.
Mayor Phil Guenther and Councilman Vince Sera, who have both worked in education, echoed Kennedy’s concern and said they’ve seen the negative effects drugs have on young students.
Those who oppose the ban in Brigantine brought up the conflict that may occur if neighboring Atlantic City continues its push to get out in front of legal marijuana.
Mayor Frank Gilliam has described recreational marijuana as the "new gold rush," believing the city is uniquely positioned to capitalize on marijuana tourism.
The state’s bill, if passed, would allow local municipalities to collect 1 percent of the taxes from recreational sales during the first year, 2 percent in the second year and 3 percent in subsequent years.
Daniel Price, an Atlantic City resident for about 10 years, works in Brigantine and questioned whether opting out of this revenue would affect Brigantine’s budget in the future.
Guenther said he would not want the city to rely on this revenue and that he still has doubts about how the state will fairly and efficiently distribute this revenue back to municipalities.
Councilman Vince Sera said he does not believe so much importance should be placed on revenue.
“I have to question if we’re looking at short-term revenues at the expense of our long-term health,” he said.
Resident and former FBI agent Robert Turkavage echoed Guenther and Sera’s positions.
“Revenues should not be the driver of our social policies,” he said.
United Food and Commercial Workers Union representative Hugh Giordano spoke against the ordinance, saying recreational marijuana sales could create working-class jobs.
“These are jobs not just in dispensaries but in auxiliary products as well, such as packaging, warehousing, transportation,” said Giordano, of Gloucester Township, Camden County.
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Marijuana activist Edward “Lefty” Grimes, who said he works with sick and disabled patients and advocates for their access to marijuana for medicinal purposes, said he saw the benefits when he switched to medical cannabis after taking OxyContin pills for about 10 years.
Guenther clarified the city does not plan to prohibit access to medical cannabis.
Council did not take a vote at the meeting to adopt the ordinance. Since the ordinance will amend the Land Use chapter, the Planning Board must first approve it.
The Planning Board’s next meeting is 6 p.m. May 23 at City Hall.