Assemblyman Trying to Pass NJ Law That Would Prevent Towns From Blocking Growing Facilities

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon wants to stop local governments from attempting to circumvent a state law that permits medical marijuana facilities from sprouting in their towns.

O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, announced Wednesday that he will introduce legislation next week that would prohibit counties and municipalities from interfering with the development of medical marijuana cultivation and distribution centers by extending their protections under the Right to Farm Act.

“I put this legislation together to respond to the attempts by some towns to thwart the intent of the medical marijuana laws and regulations,” O’Scanlon said in a statement.

In Monmouth County, the Board of Freeholders adopted a resolution in December opposing medical marijuana facilities on preserved farmland. Upper Freehold also passed a vague ordinance in December that states that no organization can obtain local approvals for a plan that is inconsistent with federal law. Howell followed suit with a similar ordinance Jan. 3.

“My legislation will thwart the ‘not in my backyard arguments being used to curtail a legally sanctioned activity in New Jersey,” O’Scanlon said in an interview Saturday.

Municipal officials and some residents argued that their towns could face federal sanctions for allowing the growth of a plant that is illegal under federal law. They also contend that “pot farms” would increase crime and lower property values.

Ken Wolski, the executuive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said he welcomes legislation that would stop towns from preventing alternative treatment centers from gaining local approvals.

In 2010, Gov. Christie signed legislation that would allow six nonprofit groups to grow and dispense medical marijuana in six regions of the state. Only one group in northern New Jersey has won local approvals while the rest struggle to find receptive communities.

“The bottom line of the intent of these laws is to make this valuable and essential drug available to the very sick or those suffering from chronic or extreme pain,” O’Scanlon said. “New Jersey has the strictest medical marijuana rules and regulations in the country. When drafting the enacting legislation, we considered the legitimate public safety concerns and the effect medicinal marijuana may have on crime rates.”

Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center, which is expected to serve Monmouth and Ocean counties, sought zoning approval this fall in Upper Freehold for a growing facility. Breakwater considered Manalapan as a potential site for a dispensary, but never sought any approvals there.

Howell Mayor Robert Walsh said Sunday that he was unaware of O’Scanlon’s plans to introduce a state law that would squash his local law. He acknowledged that there is no application before his town.

“The law gives us the right to fight anything that's not in the best interest of the township,” Walsh said. “Will we lose in the end? Yes, we may.”

He added that O’Scanlon might be receptive to a growing facility in his hometown, but he would need more information before allowing a facility that could be subject to a federal law enforcement raid. There have been no such raids at existing state-licensed facilities in other parts of the country, according to Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the NORML Foundation.

“We really need to rebalance the debate on these facilities and get back to what’s important — helping those who are suffering,” O’Scanlon said.

- Article originally from Asbury Park Press.

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