It’s no secret Shamong Mayor Michael DiCroce sees cannabis agriculture as the future of Shamong, but now he has a high-profile advocate on his side: former NFL player Dominique Easely.
Easely, who played defensive tackle for the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, moved to Shamong in 2018. After growing cannabis in California, he plans to bring his expertise to the township.
Easely’s relationship with cannabis is rooted in pain. He first started using marijuana as an alternative to opioids after struggling with addiction. His sister has fibromyalgia, a disease for which medical marijuana is being studied as a treatment.
When Easely first moved to Shamong, he was arrested because his friend’s car smelled like marijuana.
“I got involved in the actual growing aspect of it because of my own experience,” he explained. “I am a purposeful user.”
Beyond marijuana’s medical use, DiCroce sees turning Shamong into “the pot capital of the world” as a treatment for the township’s tight budget.
“If you’re paying one dollar in taxes, one nickel of that goes to Shamong,” DiCroce said. “So one of our mantras is to try and figure out how to run our town like a business and bring new business here.”
Shamong is located in the Pinelands, so much of its land is preserved, meaning it cannot be taxed or developed. DiCroce sees cannabis agriculture as a way to fill underutilized farmland and bring tax funding into the township.
Last year, DiCroce wrote a letter to about 20 cannabis production companies asking them to consider moving to Shamong. If they partner with the township, DiCroce suggested, it would create jobs, improve funding and potentially allow the township to build and operate a community center.
DiCroce also invites current Shamong residents to benefit from cannabis growing. He expects any landowner with five acres or more to be able to take part.
“I don’t just want to have this as something where we had the big guys come in,” he added. “I want to have it so that the little guy in our town who’s been here has an opportunity to participate in this as well.”
Shamong resident Neil Wilkinson runs a website dedicated to news and research surrounding cannabis in the township. He surveyed 40 residents, 87 percent of whom were in favor of making Shamong a cultivation center.
“We want to keep the flavor of the town the way it is, and explore new opportunities,” DiCroce noted. “My job is just to be transparent and allow people, whether they’re pro or con, to come forward.”
Easely said bringing cannabis growing to Shamong will launch the township into the next generation.
“Culture always changes as time goes on,” he added. “You have to change with the world, because if you don’t, you get stuck.”