Murphy at Freeholder meeting
Governor Phil Murphy on the left addressing the Freeholder board and county officials at the reorganization.

1/8/20 BY DAN ULLOA

At the annual reorganization meeting of the Middlesex County Freeholder Board, the Freeholders declared their neutrality on the issue of cannabis legalization.

When asked about the ballot measures and the issues regarding expungement, they took time to deliberate among themselves for a bit.

“As county government, we’re not going to take a position on this,” Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios ultimately. When asked if they truly had no position, Rios confirmed that which was followed by a bit of laughter from the crowd of local officials and party leaders.

All county-level elected officials in Middlesex are Democrats.

Granted, the county government really does not play a part in cannabis legalization. The state and municipal/town level is far more important. The state government has to pass a law or regulate and the public has to vote on it. While cannabis prohibition remains, municipal police are usually those who arrest people on cannabis charges. Those individuals are then prosecuted in municipal courts. Town councils and municipal zoning boards decide whether or not they want to have a dispensary within their town.

Middlesex County already has two medical dispensaries operating: Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge on Rt. One North and Breakwater in Cranbury.

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac was in attendance and swore in Freeholder Charlie Kenney. According to their website, he cut the ribbon of Garden State Dispensary on their opening day.

However, other towns in Middlesex like Old Bridge and Spotswood are opposed to having a dispensary within their borders. Most of the towns have not taken public positions. Some local officials have said in private they support putting dispensaries in industrial areas away from centers of children, which makes sense.

Governor Phil Murphy spoke briefly at the reorganization meeting. He made pleasant comments regarding the county and his relationship with Middlesex County Democratic Chair Kevin McCabe. Murphy campaigned on legalization and has been pushing it with varying degrees of success since taking office.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) also from Woodbridge has generally been in favor of cannabis reform. He also spoke at the meeting, praising the Freeholders and the work they’ve done.

Middlesex County Government Business

Middlesex County Sheriff Millie Scott, an African American woman, was re-elected and sworn in In her remarks she praised the county’s officers. as well as the drug-sniffing dogs.

Even if cannabis is legalized, these forces would still combat other drugs like heroin and cocaine.

She also said the county would be expanding its DARE program.

Freeholders Charlie Kenney and Kenney Armwood were sworn into their new terms after winning re-election and Claribel Azcona-Barber was sworn in as a new Freeholder, having replaced Blanquita Valenti who retired.
Azcona-Barber was a founding member of the Latino Action Network or LAN  (full disclosure the author is on the board of LAN). Azcona-Barber is the first Dominican-American woman to be elected as a Freeholder in New Jersey.

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