Law & Justice

Marijuana Ordinance Brings Lively Public Discussion Before Final Council Vote

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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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Credits: Borough of Hawthorne
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HAWTHORNE, NJ - At the public commentary section regarding the adoption of Ordinance 2207-18, which prohibits the sale of medical or recreational marijuana in the borough of Hawthorne--should legalization be passed in Trenton--a number of individuals addressed the chamber prior to the council's vote to adopt it.  A lively discussion took place, the highlights of which are found below.

Edward Grimes, a medical marijuana patient and pro-cannabis activist from East Hanover, approached the podium with the help of a cane and set up a cell phone to record his statement.  “The sick and the dying need their medicine… how dare you take it away from them.  We’re not talking about recreational, because that’s in the future, that doesn’t even exist right now, we’re talking about medical.  People that are suffering right now with cancer.  I guess you don’t know anybody with cancer, because if you did, you’d do anything you can to help them, you wouldn’t give them more loops to jump through.”  Grimes also criticized the council for the lack of wheelchair access to commercial facilities throughout the borough.  “When you disrespect the sick and the dying, and you don’t help them, you’re disrespecting God.”  Grimes condemned legal opium-based painkillers as hypocritical.  “How dare anybody deny somebody medicine, especially in this town.  If you look at the maps of… lead and mercury, we live in a red dot.  New Jersey’s a big red dot.  We need cannabis.  We’ve got fentanyl in this town, you sell fentanyl and OxyContin, you’re killing people in this town.  Why don’t you give them cannabis?”  Grimes referred to other meetings where cannabis users have attended to advocate for legalization wearing colostomy and chemo bags.  “You guys are making it harder for people to get their medicine—why?  Why would you do that?”

Grimes continued, railing against the small number of wheelchair ramps to Hawthorne businesses, saying the town lacked access. 

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“In the state of New Jersey, existing conditions don’t need to be improved, although every time a new application comes to the planning board, we do ask new businesses to be accessible,” Council President Frank Matthews said.  “But in some instances, some of these older places are not able to be.  It doesn’t make it right, but we’re not violating anyone’s civil liberties because of the conditions that exist.  Any new construction definitely should and would conform to what you’re saying.”  Grimes charged that the town was violating a civil rights issue.  “The town is not violating [civil rights],” Matthews said.  “Those are private businesses and they have approvals to be there.  The state of New Jersey is not giving them warnings or even fines for not being accessible.  If they were to expand or redo a certain percentage, then the local building codes would enforce a state building code.  Hawthorne does not have a building code, we enact a state building code.”

“Before we continue for further comments, I just want to clarify a few things,” Matthews said.  “We are not trying to ban the use of medical marijuana or the use of it for recreational purposes if made legal.  This ordinance is a zoning ordinance that states that we do not feel that a dispensary is consistent with our Borough Master Plan.  It’s been reviewed by the Planning Board and that agency has also concurred.  There are also those who have said that we’re passing up an opportunity to make revenue off of the sales of marijuana.  Well, the state will receive hefty taxes as our last speaker stated, but the borough will receive no revenue from it.  There are also who have said that we could charge for a license like a liquor license.  Well, the state determines liquor licenses and we have no indication that they’re going to be issuing licenses for us to sell for cannabis dispensaries.  There was also talk about seventy-five dispensaries being located throughout the state, but there’s a bill in front of the senate, I think it’s assembly, that states that there’ll be five hundred of them.  Those of us that talked about it prior, they said little Hawthorne’s never going to be on anybody’s radar when it’s only about seventy-five dispensaries throughout the state.  Well, five hundred, our odds just went up.  We stated at the introduction of this ordinance that if chain or local drug stores start to dispense medical marijuana in the future, we’ll reevaluate our position on the medical sales.  That for some we are acting too quick for something that hasn’t even happened yet, we’d rather put a ban in place now and react once things unfold in the future instead of potentially being a test site for an unknown consequence of our state leader’s decisions.  I’ve stated in the past, I only care about what happens in Hawthorne.  I often question the wisdom of those higher up the political ladder.  Ordinances are not carved in stone.  Any law can change over time to adjust to a new condition.  We’re not trying to take anyone’s health remedy away, we just don’t feel that it’s something that is a good fit in our town for a dispensary.”

A second speaker approached the podium, Hugh Giordano from Gloucester Township, a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 152.  Giordano opposed the adoption of the ordinance.  “We have approximately 1.2 million members across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.  We represent people in retail, warehouses, healthcare, and we also represent cannabis workers in both the medical dispensaries and also the adult-use dispensaries.  This is a direct attack against the UFCW, this is a direct attack against our membership, this is a direct attack against the working class.”  Giordano stated that by 2020, the cannabis industry is believed to produce over a quarter-million jobs, outpacing manufacturing, public utilities, and public service jobs.  “So by attacking cannabis, you are attacking a market, a job creator, that will create more jobs….”  Giordano cited examples from legalized states where unionized jobs provided high wages and benefits for workers in the cannabis industry.  “I want to give Councilman Bennett kudos.  I read what you said, and all your facts are backed up on paper.”  He praised the councilman’s libertarian views, referring to a comment made by Mayor Goldberg in past meetings.  Bennett said, “I wear the badge proudly.  The Republican Party needs a token libertarian.”

The third speaker was Rachel Lutz, a resident historian in Hawthorne, and a local teacher.  “I just want to say that passing a sort of pre-emptive act banning the creation of what would be a really legal business feels, from my standpoint, as a professional historian, this feels really shortsighted.  Because we don’t know what the future is going to tell us, is this appropriate, once a state law has been passed?  So to pass a local ordinance banning what might be, and what already is a legal business at the medical level just really feels like a partisan move.  I think it’s beneath us as a town to sort of go that way with this ordinance.  So I encourage you guys to think about what the future might say about this bill, and what it means for Hawthorne to be one of the handful of towns who says ‘no, we don’t want a business that could offer the kind of benefits that the gentleman that came before me suggested’.  I think that the benefits of having such a powerfully positive business on a legal issue will outweigh the outdated ideas about what pot or marijuana meant culturally in the early or mid 20th Century.”

After Lutz, Anthony Agner, a Hawthorne resident, stood to speak.  Agner took issue with the claim by Councilman Joseph Wojetcki that legalization would incur additional police costs for training them in identifying those driving under the influence of cannabis.  Agner asserted that if the state legalizes marijuana, there may be people from other towns traveling through Hawthorne, necessitating the police to be so trained anyway.  He claimed that the point was “moot.” 

“I’m not sure what you think a dispensary is, it’s not like we took our street corner drug dealer and gave him a retail space," Agner said.  "A lot of dispensaries in states that have legalized it are very nice, very clean storefronts, almost like a jewelry store in which all of the products are under glass cases.  And you have the experts there to help you find exactly what you need, almost like a sommelier pairing wine with your dinner.  There’s a lot of benefits that come from that.  It was stated at the Symposium in Atlantic City last week, that in Washington state they put a lot of restrictions out there on the advertising and signage that you can use as a business, even limiting the amount of usage of the pot leaf itself in your advertising.  So it’s not like if you allowed a dispensary in here, that someone would be going and building a twenty-foot sign with a giant pot leaf lit up and be an eyesore for the town, it’d be something that would blend into the town….”  Agner said that he did not see a compelling reason to deny future businesses the option of using Hawthorne as the site of opportunity. 

Daniel Cassini, a resident of Hawthorne, stepped up to the podium.  "I heard a lot of things here that sounded ridiculous to me.  I don’t want to offend anybody but to say it’ll give women jobs, and stuff like that, or people jobs, I mean, there’s a lot of ways to create jobs.  Why don’t we open up a whorehouse in town, too?  You can create jobs with that, and from what I hear in places like Las Vegas, they’re nice and clean and everything.  I don’t think that’s a reason to do something like this.  I do think that for medical purposes, it’s warranted.   I also have some stuff here that I got out of The Record, just recently, talking about things like what other people have said, that it kind of crushes organized crime and things like that from selling illegal marijuana."

“They’re still going to sell it to people who don’t want to pay the taxes,” Matthews said.  “They’re still going to buy from the illegal sources.”

"There’s a police chief in Colorado,” Cassini continued, “who said that it did exactly the opposite, we’re seeing exactly the opposite, that organized crime groups from outside have moved into the state to grow marijuana without a license and ship it out of state.  So, it happens.  There’s also people who say it’s not a gateway drug.  I don’t think you can blanketly say that it’s not a gateway drug because for some people, it is a gateway drug.  It’s an introduction to it and it leads to other things.  Does it always do it?  No, but there’s probably many times when it does do it.  I know people that did it back in the old days, ‘cause I’m an old guy, back in the Sixties and stuff like that whose lives are ruined.” 

Cassini read from his notes that marijuana testing is unreliable and that marijuana usage can have a detrimental effect on skill-based performance, athletics, and driving for hours after consumption.  “Some high profile suicides were linked to edible overdoses, which is apparently a tremendous problem in areas that sell it legally, that they put it in cakes and cupcakes and things of that nature, and kids eat it because it looks good.  And when you initially eat it, it does not have the effect on you, they say, when you’re smoking it or vaping it, so you eat more and more to get the effect, and before you know it, you’ve overdosed.  And you can.  To say that it won’t be somehow transported to people who are not legal to buy it is ridiculous.  I mean, yeah, maybe the people who aren’t selling it won’t do that, maybe, but, there’s always the guy outside and the kid who comes up to him and says, hey, can you go in and buy it for me?  And he’s of age to buy it, so he buys it and gives it to them.  People do it with alcohol now.  And I just think, I’m totally with it used for medical purposes, because, to me there are far more other medicines on the market that have been approved by the FDA and whatever, that are as dangerous, if not more dangerous, and you hear that all the time on TV with lawyers that are very willing to sue for you, the drug companies, the things that have killed people that the FDA says is good.  I think for medical purposes it’s warranted, and I appreciate the fact that you said that if somewhere down the road it turns that way, that it if Rite-Aid and Walgreens and all those other places want to sell it, then it should be available to people.  Because if you’re truly ill and it helps you, to me it’s no more harmful than many of the other prescription medicines.  But I don’t think it should be available for recreational use.  To compare it to alcohol or anything else is a specious argument because, what, do we need more bad things?  I mean, alcohol’s not a problem?  The cops don’t pull people over for being drunk in town and people don’t have accidents?”

Tom Cariello of Hawthorne asked some questions of the council.  “What would the difference be if a Melcon’s or CVS or somebody wanted to sell marijuana after it was legalized versus an entrepreneur individual person just opening up their own shop like across the street?  It seems like you’re more receptive to a big-time pharmacy maybe selling it as opposed a small shop.  So, I’m curious what the distinction is there.”

“They sell other products than just that,” Matthews replied.  “I have no issue, I have family that have had cancer and they had used edibles for nausea and appetite, but they’re basically buying it through legal sources, which is fine, like I said.  It just doesn’t work well in Hawthorne.  If you have a certain area, like where we have an industrial area that was like on a highway like certain towns do, but we have a lot of churches and houses, there’s really no zone where I would say, where would you put them?  I’m not really in favor of the vape shops, but obviously it’s a legal item, but we recently had a vape shop that was caught selling to underage kids in town, of which it’s been a habitual problem, the one on Goffle Road.  And I’m going to ask for their certificate of compliance to be yanked because he was before the Planning Board and warned not to be selling paraphernalia and items like that to young kids.  He just got caught again, so it’s almost like, if you give an inch, they’re going to take a mile.  So, at this point, just say no.  Nancy Reagan was onto something.”

“Is the ordinance written in such a way that there’s a clear cut, where, you sell too much pot versus you sell some pot and a bunch of other stuff, like a CVS aisle?” Cariello asked.

“No, the ordinance says right now none,” Matthews said.  “You’re not allowed to sell any marijuana period.”

“So, you’d be willing to make an exception, potentially, for a pharmacy somewhere down the line?”  Cariello asked.

“I also see the way our society is going,” Matthews said, “and if it becomes more mainstream and they find our more benefits to it, then if a CVS or somebody like a large type, or Melcon’s or anybody else, they’re also not going to be trying to cut corners.  I think they’re going to be a little corporate about it versus a mom and pop shop may not be risking as much as a large corporation would be.  That’s just my personal opinion and people that I’ve talked to within my voting district, that they all kind of say the same thing.  We don’t really know what’s going to happen down the pike, could be a year or two years.  Our governor seems to be pushing it for money.  I’d rather push it for that gentleman’s reasons,” Matthews said in references to Grimes, “I’d rather pursue the item for health issues than to make money on it, which as Mr. Cassini said, there’s all sorts of other problems with drugs and alcohol.  Just because one isn’t that bad doesn’t mean, for recreational use, we should introduce the ability for people to buy it.”

Councilman Wojtecki had a prepared statement to make and read it to the council and audience.  “I have said on many occasions that I vote as I believe the people I represent would like me to vote.  On not one issue have I received as many phone calls, e-mails, conversations, and on one occasion, hate mail.  I had no idea of the many people who cared about the legalization of marijuana.  My personal opinion on this has not changed.  I believe it is the gateway drug.  This has not changed.  I ask the administration and council to please consider sending this to the residents of Hawthorne as a referendum.  I understand it would be a non-binding referendum, but if not, I will be voting ‘no’.  I thank the residents of Hawthorne for reaching out to me, but please understand, negativity has nowhere to go in Hawthorne.  I don’t need people coming before the podium and making negative comments.  It’s unnecessary and it’s not like Hawthorne and it doesn’t belong here.”

“A municipal land use law does not allow the public to decide zoning ordinances,” said Matthews.  “Obviously, you can get the pulse of what your community’s feeling, but we’re elected officials.  You’ve communicated with your people.  My people have told me the exact opposite.  So, we’re elected to make hard decisions, and to have a non-binding referendum is not legally binding us to do anything.  We’re going to be right back here making up our mind anyway.  So, we’re elected and paid to do our job, and, obviously, if you can represent your constituents versus your personal views, then vote ‘no’, and I understand that.”

Councilman Bruce Bennett, the only councilman who had advocated against the adoption of Ordinance 2207-18, made his remarks next.  “I hoped since we introduced this, the delays Mother Nature has given us, has given everyone up here, time to do some research to determine the facts and eliminate some of the falsehoods.  I know I did, I did a lot of research over the last few weeks, and I found two interesting items that I’d like to put out there before we take this vote.  Apparently, Ocean County’s freeholders are trying to do the same thing.  They are trying to get preemptive by passing an ordinance to ban the sale in that area.  And in the process, their freeholder director made a very uninformed statement: that marijuana was as addictive as heroin, which prompted people to do some research, and they uncovered a study that dates back to 2010.  Professor David Nutt, former chief drugs advisor to the British government, asked drug harm experts to rank twenty legal and illegal drugs on sixteen measures of harm to the user and to wider society, including damage to health, dependency, wider costs, and crime.  What the study showed is that it is not as addictive as heroin.  In fact, in order of ranking, alcohol was number one, heroin, crack-cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, tobacco—a legal substance, and amphetamines, were all ahead of cannabis.”

“In that study,” Matthews said.

“Well, you’ve got to use studies, or you can, like I said earlier, refer to movies like ‘Reefer Madness’ for your information.  It is not a gateway drug.”

“Well, there are exceptions to that,” said Matthews, “even if it’s one or two people.  How would you like it if your family was the one that was addicted?”

“You have people who can take one drink and become an alcoholic.  You don’t rule all of society based on the minorities.  It’s majority rule,” Bennett said.  “The second interesting study I found, and you can dispute this one, too, if you like, but it was published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine.  It’s a study that was done at Ben-Gurion [University] of the Negev Institute in Israel.  The study found that cannabis therapy is safe and efficacious for elderly patients who are seeking to address cancer symptoms, Parkinson’s Disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, and other medical issues.  The most interesting part of the story is that, after six months of treatment, more than 93% of 901 respondents reported their pain dropped from a median of 8 to 4 on a ten-point scale.  Close to 60% of patients who reported bad, or very bad quality of life, upgraded to good, or very good, after six months.  And after six months, more than 18% of these elderly patients had stopped using opioid analgesics or had reduced their dosage.  We have an opioid crisis, we have an effective means to fight it, and you guys want to ban it from Hawthorne.  You want to force our elderly, our bedridden, and our sick people to drive God-knows-where to try to find it.  I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s unconscionable, actually.”

The vote was called.

Joseph Wojtecki – “No.”

Garret Sinning – “Yes.”

Dominic Mele – “Yes.”

John Lane – “Yes.”

John Bertollo – “As we said at the last meeting… as far as the medicinal cannabis goes, we look forward to seeing what the legislation comes out to be to decide if there’s an opportunity in Hawthorne to amend the ordinance at some point.  But I think, you know, my faith in our Trenton leadership right now is all about the dollars, I don’t believe it’s about helping people that could use it, that’s my opinion, so, I’m voting ‘yes’ for the ordinance.”

Bruce Bennett – “A very proud and definite ‘no’.”

Frank Matthews – “The opposite: yes.”

 

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