MIDDLETOWN, NJ - The Middletown Township Committee’s June 3rd Workshop Meeting featured a group of medical marijuana activists using music to advocate for that cause; as well as a talk about its participation in the shared services program with Monmouth County; making this meeting quite different from most others.

The meeting began with Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone explaining aspects of Monmouth County’s Shared Services program and how it’s structured.  Arnone said that the program has a specially designated Shared Services Coordinator named Elizabeth Perez through whom all shared service program uses are channeled; and that Monmouth County is a statewide pioneer in structuring the program that way.

“We’re the only county in the State of New Jersey that has put into effect a shared services coordinator,” Arnone said. “We wanted to create a model.”

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Arnone then pointed out to several of how Monmouth county has pioneered several initiatives over the years that later served as models for similar statewide programs, such as Grown in Monmouth & Grown in New Jersey and Made in Monmouth & Made in New Jersey, etc.

“Now they’re talking about implementing shared services components with what they call czars,” Arnone said. “It’s our understanding (from) some of the legislation that’s going out there that a shared service coordinator is going to be a requirement for every county. Well, we’ve been doing it. No offense to the state, but they’re following everything we do.”

Arnone then discussed how the program has benefitted Monmouth County communities over time; giving examples such as firetruck repairs in Asbury Park, and a lake dredging project in Long Branch, which saved each community roughly about $600,000, and even told a story about how a town was able to save about $2,000 in the costs of a tree removal by using a county shared services vendor instead of their own vendor.

“They save whatever (dollar amount) because that’s what they would have had to spend money on,” Arnone said. “That’s the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s treated like a business model.”

The shared services program allows Monmouth County communities to save money by allowing them to shift some municipal services to county vendors rather than having to find their own vendors.  A major recent example of shared services in Middletown is the 9-1-1 dispatch service, which was shifted to the county a few years ago without any major issues.

“We’re just truly trying to be a big brother,” Arnone said. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”

Mayor Anthony Perry said he was grateful for the benefits the program has brought to Middletown.

“We hope to further the partnership between the county and Middletown, he said. “You (the county) have been a good friend to us.”

Later in the meeting, Lefty Grimes, a Bayonne resident and medical marijuana activist who is known for visiting police stations throughout New Jersey to test police awareness of the state’s Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) as part of the “Ignorance is no excuse” tour, attended the Middletown Township committee’s workshop to ask them about why it was (supposedly) against medical marijuana.

The MMP in essence allows New Jersey residents with certain major medical conditions, such as terminal illnesses, chronic pain, etc. – to use medical marijuana, as long as they register for the program, has an ongoing relationship with a doctor who is also registered with the program, and only smokes medical marijuana in areas where tobacco smoking is legal.

Mayor Perry and Deputy Mayor Fiore both said that the township has not officially taken any stance or passed any ordinance against medical marijuana, and Fiore would eventually explain that any perspective to the contrary was likely a misunderstanding of an ordinance that was once introduced against recreational marijuana dispensaries; adding that he personally believes marijuana should be regulated like alcohol.

Grimes then told a story about how his brother-in-law died of an opioid overdose.

“I had to listen to his daughter cry where’s my daddy, where’s my daddy,” Grimes said. “That’s something I do not wish on anybody. It was a very bad day.”

Grimes then introduced another activist, who played a song titled “You can’t get no weed here”, which sings the names of New Jersey towns that have passed anti-marijuana resolutions and/or ordinances, to the tune of “I’ve been everywhere man”.

Jefferey Oaks, a Middletown resident, said he was glad Middletown Township was not against medical marijuana after all.

“Congratulations on not banning medical marijuana,” Oaks said. “Hopefully, it stays that way.”

He then spoke about how he has health problems that lead to chronic pain, which he used to treat with opioids, but now treats with medical marijuana instead, which he says has vastly improved his quality of life.

“This is the choice,” he said about medical marijuana, adding that schools should educate its students about the potential benefits of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to treat sports-injury related pain. “You don’t need opioids to get through an ACL injury.”

Vincent Digiola, a Middletown resident who works in the New Jersey prison system where he helps people struggling with opioids, spoke about how those released from prison for this and similar issues often do not get the assistance they need to stay out of trouble, especially in terms of helping them find housing.

“There’s no housing for those who get out and need help,” he said. “We as a community and as a team need to step up our game. The best way to keep people clean is housing.”