UNION, NJ – A lively debate on the potential for the retail sale of recreational marijuana, hosted by Union’s Regular Democratic Club, took place Monday night to a crowd of about 100 people at the VFW Post 2433.

Opposed to the legalization of marijuana, the debate featured Stephen Reid, Executive Director of New Jersey RAMP, Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy.  According to debate moderator and Township Committeeman Manuel Figueiredo, Reid is the Mayor of Point Pleasant Beach and “an accomplished public affairs and strategic grass roots media relations professional, well versed in New Jersey’s issues.” 

In favor of the legalization was William Caruso, managing director at Archer Public Affairs and of counsel with Archer, Attorneys at Law.  Caruso is a founding member of the New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform steering committee and a board member of the New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association. 

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Before the debate began, Township Attorney Dan Antonelli said there have been modifications to pending bills, but the bills have consistently included the provision that a municipality can ban the retail sale of marijuana. 

“In this regard, the mayor and Township Committee instructed me to create a resolution,” said Antonelli.  “It will ask the voter to decide whether or not they’d like to see the Township Committee adopt legislation that would allow the retail sale of marijuana.”  The referendum will be on Union’s ballot in November.

In his opening remarks, Reid said Point Pleasant Beach was the first town to say no to dispensaries.  “I want you to think of this question,” said Reid.  “How is this going to make your community better?”

“This is big money,” continued Reid, “a $55 billion industry -- “McDonalds is $8 billion.”  In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, Reid said there are more “pot shops” than McDonalds or Starbucks. 

“The real problem that I see,” said Reid, “is if this gets passed I’ll feel that I failed the children of New Jersey.”  He said it’s not about smoking marijuana, but about the edibles.  “Gummie Bears is for the commercialization of marijuana.” 

Reid touched on job testing for occupations like nurses, bus drivers, and union workers who get [drug] tested.  “These people are really worried.  If they smoke on Saturday and on Monday they get tested, they’re going to get fired.  It’s happening in Colorado and people aren’t even talking about that.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing what this bill looks like,” concluded Reid.  “But I can tell you right now, it’s not good for your town.”

In the area of research, Caruso’s opening remarks included that “our medicinal program has been broken.  We aren’t doing the research that can be done to help better lives for folks.  That comes in some part when you bring a legalized effort into a state.  You see an influx of medical research and agricultural research.”

“This is about major research facilities, pharmacy facilities that will come in and develop the next lifesaving drugs that are a derivative of cannabis,” said Caruso.  “That doesn’t come just from having a medicinal program.  That comes when you fully legalize and you bring in the investment dollars along with the expertise and you begin to change the view, the stigma, attached to this.”

Caruso said it’s worth it for the state to take the time to dive into and determine how to “keep our roads safe, create good paying jobs, keep marijuana out of the hands of children and drive out the black market that exists right now.  “I say we can do that.”

“We can create an industry here that will be a legitimate industry,” continued Caruso, “it will be zoned appropriately and you will be able to allow as a town to decide where you want it and where you don’t want it.”

Speaking of the argument that marijuana is a gateway drug, Caruso said, “the place you go on the street corner right now doesn’t card you. Marijuana isn’t a gateway drug.  The place you buy the marijuana is the gateway.  We’ve got to deal with the black market.”

“For every town that has decided to ban this,” said Caruso, “I can point to two who are trying to figure out how to do this.”

The question and answer portion of the program had attendees ask questions about the economic analysis of legalized marijuana (and were referred to the website New Jersey Policy Perspective) and how legalization will affect the expungement of those already convicted. Caruso said the racial and social justice issues are of significant importance.  He said there is no difference in terms of use among users of marijuana, but African Americans are arrested at four times the rate as non-Blacks.  He said the expungement issue will probably be a stand-alone bill. 

"You will be able to derive economic development in your town by having one of these facilities in your town," concluded Caruso.  "There's no question in my mind about that. You're going to deal with whatever problems we talked about here in your town regardless of whether or not you have one of these facilities in your town."

"If recreational marijuana comes to your town," asked Reid, "what's it going to do to your town?  Is it going to be a good thing or a bad thing?  I think you need think about that," concluded Reid.