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Sep 2021

Berkeley Council: You Won’t Be Buying Legal Marijuana In Our Town

In 2020, New Jersey voters said yes to legal recreational marijuana/cannabis, but Berkeley Township officials have a different message: Not in our town. Businesses that sell recreational cannabis are officially banned in Berkeley Township.
Recreational marijuana itself remains legal to possess and use, as per state law, but under an ordinance passed earlier this summer, there will be no recreational dispensaries in town from which to purchase it, along with other marijuana-related businesses.
Medical marijuana dispensaries will continue to be allowed in the industrial park, however, according to Mayor Carmen Amato. Town officials remain in support of medical marijuana; this only impacts recreational marijuana.
The ban impacts “all recreational cannabis establishments, cannabis distributors or cannabis delivery services.” Delivery of “cannabis items and related supplies” will be permitted.
According to the ordinance, the ban is “in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of Township of Berkeley’s residents and members of the public who visit, travel or conduct business” in town.
Though support for legalized recreational marijuana has been strong across the state, with around two thirds of New Jersey voters casting ballots in favor of legalization, historically Berkeley Township has been against expanding the state’s legal medical marijuana to include recreational use.
In January 2018, for example, the council changed local zoning laws to prohibit recreational marijuana distribution sites in town, looking ahead to a potential statewide legalization. (The town had to do so again this year in order to maintain those restrictions once legalization was passed). Then in May 2018, they followed that up by passing a resolution opposing state-level legalization of recreational marijuana, joining just about every other town in Ocean County in doing so.
“The council and I stand committed to medicinal use, [but] that’s something totally different,” Mayor Carmen Amato said at the time. “This is only opposing the State of New Jersey legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.”
At the time, Berkeley was one of several dozen towns passing measures against recreational marijuana.
That horse has left the barn, thanks to voters’ overwhelming support for legalization, but the dispensaries expected to open throughout the state won’t be locating in Berkeley.
Berkeley isn’t alone in that, either. As this story went to press, about 360 New Jersey towns have opted out of allowing legal recreational cannabis sales. Meanwhile, 90 have opted in and 115 remain undecided.
There are now six different types of recognized marijuana businesses in New Jersey. These include cultivators (which grow cannabis), manufacturers (which prepare and package marijuana), wholesalers, distributors, retailers (such as dispensary storefronts), and delivery services.
The town’s stance has largely won support from members of the public who comment at township council meetings, though in 2019 it also drew protests from area legalization advocates Edward “Lefty” Grimes and Michael Vintzileos.
During the June 2019 meeting, Grimes said legal cannabis would be an avenue towards helping people.
“If a disabled war vet with PTSD is going to kill himself, you should be growing cannabis for him. We need to put the sick and the dying first, because the sick and the dying have a special place in God’s heart,” Grimes said.
Councilman James Byrnes said as a war veteran, he understands the need to help vets with PTSD – and he’s not opposed to it, when marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes.
“There’s nobody in this room that’s against THC oil or medical marijuana,” Byrnes said.
The measure banning recreational marijuana businesses passed unanimously. 
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