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Lower Township becomes first Cape May County municipality to approve cannabis sales
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Lower Township becomes first Cape May County municipality to approve cannabis sales

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LOWER TOWNSHIP — In a 5-0 vote on Tuesday, the township became the first municipality in Cape May County to say yes to retail cannabis sales.

The approved zoning ordinance will allow one license in each of two zones; the retail area in the North Cape May section of the township and in the industrial zone near the Cape May Airport, although Cape May County officials have said the use will not be accepted on the airport property itself.

The vote came after a public hearing that saw impassioned arguments in favor of the use, and even more strident arguments against it.

“I’ve seen this, and it breaks my heart,” William Salvia, of the Villas section of the township, told council members. “I want you to know something, I’ve been praying for you.”

Salvia is a member of Calvary Chapel Cape May and told the council he is a retired New York City police officer. He said he worked undercover starting in 1968. He said he made a lot of arrests.

“By then, a $10 bag of marijuana was a Class D felony. What a shame what has happened to us. What a shame,” he said. In New York State, a Class D felony caries a potential sentence of years in state prison.

Salvia told the story of a young man who overdosed on heroin. He said he could find no identification but was eventually able to contact the man’s mother, showing her a photo of her son.

“It broke my heart then and it breaks my heart today to see the look on her face to see her boy dead,” he said. “I said, ‘He died of an overdose of heroin.’ She said, ‘I chased him out of the house two years ago because he was smoking pot.’”

Salvia said cannabis was a step toward heroin.

“No one has ever overdosed on marijuana. That’s a fact,” said Tom Nuscis of the Erma section of the township later in the meeting. He also denied there is any evidence that marijuana use increases the likelihood that someone will later use more dangerous drugs.

Nuscis said he has two sons and a son-in-law who work in law enforcement, and that he used to work on drug interdiction missions while serving in the Navy. But he said he has educated himself about cannabis and supports allowing retail sales.

He said he believes most people using cannabis take it as an edible. New Jersey’s cannabis laws are expected to include strict labeling and dosage guidelines for edible products, as well as child-resistant packaging.

“It is safe to use,” Nuscis said. “I’m sure most people in the room have said, ‘I need a drink’ at the end of the day, or are going home to have a glass of wine to relax. It’s the same principle.”

While it is true that there is no recorded instance of a fatal overdose of marijuana despite eons of human use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is possible to overdose on cannabis, producing confusion, anxiety, paranoia, an accelerated heart rate and other symptoms.

And while cannabis use does not carry the same risk of physical dependence as heroin or alcohol, according to the CDC, about one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted, with those rates increasing for users under 18.

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An adult who chooses to use cannabis can be certain that what they purchased from a licensed dispensary has not been adulterated with other drugs or otherwise contaminated, Nuscis said, saying there is no such certainty for those buying on the black market.

Hugh Giordano of UFCW Local 152 said legal cannabis brings good-paying, union jobs with benefits, jobs he said Lower Township needs.

“These are careers. These are not part-time boardwalk jobs. These are jobs where families will move here and actually pay taxes and be part of society,” Giordano said.

Most other Cape May County towns have banned retail sales. Immediately to the north, Middle Township was set to introduce an ordinance banning retail sales Wednesday evening.

“The municipalities that are around us have said no. We are on the verge of saying, ‘Oh, yes. Come. We want you to come here,” said Jane Erdo of Villas. “Do we want to be known as the cannabis distributor of South Jersey or the shore area?”

Describing herself as an aging hippie, she said it was foolish that the township was taking the step. She, too, believes cannabis is a gateway to more dangerous drugs.

“Those drugs take them down a path of no return, unless they’re very lucky,” she said.

“We all know this is a sensitive subject, and not an easy decision for council,” said Mayor Frank Sippel. He added the state referendum to allow cannabis sales to adults passed by a wide margin, with Lower Township’s support stronger than the state average. About 70% of voters in the municipality voted for legalization.

Councilman Tom Conrad said he voted against the referendum.

“But it’s here. There’s nothing we’re going to do to stop it,” Conrad said. He said he hopes funds raised by allowing retail cannabis will help offset additional costs to Lower Township that he expects to see because of legal marijuana.

In addition to the cost of the licenses, set at $2,000 in Lower Township, municipalities will be able to add a local tax of 2% on retail sales of cannabis if they allow the adult-use dispensaries.

Sippel said the township would not be able to prohibit deliveries if it said no to cannabis sales. Neighboring West Cape May is also considering an ordinance allowing retail cannabis.

“They could just deliver to the township of Lower Township, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

“The law was passed by the voters of the state of New Jersey. And obviously the majority of voters in the Township of Lower were in favor. So, tough decision for us to make,” said Councilman David Perry. Council members Kevin Coombs and Roland Roy declined to comment at the meeting before the unanimous vote on the all-Republican governing body.

For now, there are no legal cannabis sales in New Jersey, as a state committee works on the rules and procedures for the new industry.

Several critics of legal cannabis walked out of the council meeting before the vote.

Holding up a Bible, Salvia said “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” as he left the room. Looking at one of the pro cannabis speakers, he repeated “foolishness.”

Contact Bill Barlow:

609-272-7290

bbarlow@pressofac.com

Twitter @jerseynews_bill

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