Lavallette officials voiced support Monday night for an ordinance that would ban marijuana dispensaries from opening in the borough should Governor-elected Phil Murphy make good on his promise to legalize the substance.
The prospect of legalization has Shore area elected officials worried local communities could become hotbeds for pot tourism. The Point Pleasant Beach mayor has similarly voiced support for a ban on dispensaries, and Seaside Heights officials are worried marijuana businesses could interrupt redevelopment plans.
“Point Beach is passing an ordinance to ban any marijuana shops in their town because it’s a family-type community,” said Councilman David Finter. “I think it’s something that we, as a council, should be thinking about doing, too. I’d rather be proactive and get it done with.”
Since Murphy, who campaigned on marijuana legalization, was elected last month, officials from numerous communities have been quietly planning how to respond. But until a legalization bill is signed into law, it may not behoove municipal councils to change their zoning ordinances, Borough Attorney Philip George said.
“It depends on what the regulation actually is, if it ever gets passed, whether it allows a municipality to take a different stand,” George said. “The old smoking regulations said that municipalities could be more strict if they wanted to, but that was changed a couple times over the years. We need to wait and see exactly what the regulations say.”
Lavallette resident Marlene Chamberlain said she would support a ban on marijuana businesses in town.
“In California, they’re having the problem of telling their children they shouldn’t start with drugs, but they’re seeing signs to buy it on every corner,” she said.
“If you want to do it in your house, I don’t have a problem with that, but if you want to do it on our streets, selling it next to ice cream shops, etcetera, I’m against it,” Finter said.
Councilwoman Joanne Filippone also indicated she would support a ban on marijuana businesses in town through a change in the borough’s zoning ordinance.
Lavallette, as well as other local communities, already have laws which ban numerous types of businesses from operating within their commercial zones. Specifically, Lavallette’s ordinance already bans adult bookstores in the business district. Such ordinances, however, have faced challenges before in Ocean County.
In 1992, Shay Varone filed plans to open the Pleasure Zone adult bookstore on Chambers Bridge Road in Brick, and immediately drew ire from residents and officials. Brick quickly adopted an ordinance that banned adult bookstores within 1,500 feet of schools, homes and churches. Judge William Huber ruled in favor of the business owner, and the store remains in the same location to this day.
Municipalities in states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Colorado, have struggled to find appropriate locations for dispensaries.
“Though technically medical marijuana dispensaries provide a healthcare service, they have historically been required to adopt the same zoning restrictions as businesses that sell alcohol, pornography, and firearms,” said Jeremy Németh, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Planning and Design at the University of Colorado. “Generally, stores that sell these types of ‘vices’ are prohibited from locating in residential or mixed-use neighborhoods and are pushed into much less affluent neighborhoods.”
So-called “proximity buffers” were worked into Colorado’s law, allowing towns to restrict the sale of marijuana near parks, beaches and schools – similar to the regulations included in New Jersey’s own medical marijuana law.