TOMS RIVER — The township council has voted to permanently ban recreational marijuana businesses from operating, rejecting a less-sweeping prohibition recommended by a study committee.
Council members approved the ban in a 4-1 vote, with two members abstaining due to conflicts. Several members have said they could revisit the marijuana issue — to permit medical marijuana dispensaries.
Only Councilwoman Laurie Huryk voted against an ordinance banning recreational weed businesses.
Council President Kevin Geoghegan, Vice President Maria Maruca and members Matt Lotano and Daniel Rodrick voted in favor of the ban, while Terrance Turnbach and Josh Kopp abstained due to conflicts.
Huryk, a member of the township’s cannabis committee, noted that the council has chosen to disregard the committee’s recommendation to allow cultivation and manufacture of recreational weed in Toms River.
Local: Toms River police: Carjacking suspect taken into custody
Long Branch cannabis rules: Long Branch introduces zoning rules, taxes to sell cannabis in the city
The committee recommended against permitting wholesale distribution, recreational sales or delivery in the township, but supported allowing medical marijuana businesses.
“We put in so much work on this,” said Huryk, noting the committee — which included residents, council members, township Planner David Roberts and representatives from the Toms River police department and Toms River Regional schools — had met for 10 consecutive weeks.
The council had previously adopted a ban on businesses that sell, manufacture and distribute weed, but had placed a Dec. 31 expiration date on the ban. That was to allow council members time to consider the findings of the cannabis committee.
Toms River resident Laurie Singer was one of several township residents who expressed disappointment at the council’s decision. She said the council is ignoring the will of township residents. In a 2020 referendum, 63.7% of township voters supported legalizing recreational marijuana.
“The time to move forward with this policy is now,” Singer said. “… Stop with the procrastination, implement the cannabis committee’s recommendations today, here and now.”
Township resident Brice Morgan, a member of the cannabis committee, also expressed disappointment with the council’s decision.
Related: Wanna get in the NJ legal weed biz? Here’s when you can apply for a dispensary license
“You’re not listening to the committee,” Morgan said. “What was the point of the committee?”
Geoghegan said he is “110% in favor” of allowing medical marijuana businesses. “Several of us have had discussions,” he said. “I do believe there would be support for medical dispensaries.”
Huryk pointed out that while medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey for a decade, Toms River’s zoning ordinances prohibit medical dispensaries. In order for medical marijuana businesses to be allowed here, the township would have to change its zoning laws to allow the firms to be located in certain zones in town.
Huryk, who did not run for re-election, will no longer be on the council in January. Also departing will be Turnbach, who lost his re-election bid earlier this month, and Maruca, who was defeated in the June GOP primary.
It’s unclear if the three new council members — all Republicans — will support medical marijuana sales.
The council has twice previously 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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Toms River NJ: Recreational marijuana sales permanently banned