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Westwood Police Chief Rebuts Mayor: Marijuana Isn't A Partisan Issue, It Doesn't Belong Here

Westwood Police Chief Michael Pontillo
Westwood Police Chief Michael Pontillo Photo Credit: COURTESY: Westwood PD

LETTER to the EDITOR: "I was shocked and disappointed to read on the front cover of a local newspaper that I was accused by Mayor John Birkner of being involved in a partisan stunt with respect to the ordinance banning marijuana in Westwood.

"Clearly, the marijuana issue is not a partisan one, as both Republican- and Democrat-controlled towns have both banned marijuana and its sales in the confines of their communities.

"I have not been contacted by Mayor Birkner at any time about this issue or where my decision was derived from, nor, sadly, has he engaged in any discussion, whatsoever, with me on this issue since I read my position paper into the record in front of the mayor and council.

"I have listened for a few weeks as people have weighed in on the issue and their personal feelings. I have heard stories about the benefits of medicinal marijuana. It appears that there is a disconnect between personal feelings on the issue and what the state of New Jersey is attempting to do with the legislation.

"This should not be a local issue that is allowed to be divisive in nature. It should not be a wedge between neighbors, friends and constituents. It should not be a dividing line between people who have a loved one who seeks medical care through use of marijuana-based products and those who do not believe in marijuana-based medical care.

"The current legislation incorporates a hidden problem deep in the back of the law. It will allow any medicinal marijuana facility to become a recreational marijuana dispensary upon legalization. In short, the State of New Jersey has proposed an all or nothing approach to marijuana.

"In Westwood, Mayor John Birkner, from the dais, stated that he is not in favor of recreational marijuana dispensaries in Westwood. Residents weighed in for and against medical marijuana dispensaries. No one indicated that they were in favor of recreational marijuana dispensaries.

"To further this along, Mayor John Birkner in his veto of the ordinance states, 'I agree that providing for the allowance of recreational sales and cultivation should not be permitted in commercial or residential zones of The Borough of Westwood at any such time full legislation should occur.'

"It should be noted that there are other zones in Westwood that have not been mentioned in the letter. Is there the same opposition by the Mayor to the other zones in town? If these statements are true, perhaps we should stop the local in-fighting recognizing that the state created an all-or-none proposition.

"Perhaps this is not a fight to originate on the dais in Westwood, because the state law is their own. Perhaps sending Trenton a message that there will not be places to sell legalized marijuana will force reconsideration of poorly drafted legislation.

"As people draw parallels among marijuana, tobacco and alcohol, it can likely be said that all of these substances have a health risk associated with their use. Why is tobacco filtered? Why is there a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Sensible regulation should be implemented prior to rushing this through because there are many unknowns.

"When someone asks a question or makes a statement with a differing viewpoint, should we be tolerant, respectful, inviting, caring and empathetic to the others view? Or, should we openly attack those with differing views in public?

"The position paper that I read is based on research. It is based on lessons learned from places that have done what New Jersey is on the cusp of doing. It was carefully prepared and considered. I do not feel that putting a marijuana dispensary in Westwood is a good idea. According to NJ state law, if we put in a medical dispensary, we are automatically granting a recreational dispensary.

"In Bergen County, there are approximately 1800 medical marijuana license holders. It translates to .0019% of the population. What about the other 99.9981% who are not?

"Westwood is fighting to prevent a Wendy's fast food establishment from being put up because it is a detriment and quality of life issue for some residents. We agree that we do not want a Wendy's by our border, but we should want a marijuana dispensary? This does not preserve the character of the town that many call home.

"I stand steadfast in my opposition to a marijuana dispensary in Westwood. I applaud the governing body for the ordinance to stop it and hope that the mayor's veto is overturned. I also applaud and thank the other municipalities and cities that have instituted similar bans.

"Marijuana does not belong in Westwood."

~Westwood Police Chief Michael Pontillo

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