Neighbors Blunt About Medicinal Marijuana Dispensary Plan

Compassionate Sciences ATC, a medical marijuana nonprofit, was denied use of this Route 73 building in Maple Shade in October. (photo: Courier-Post)Compassionate Sciences ATC, a medical marijuana nonprofit, was denied use of this Route 73 building in Maple Shade in October. (photo: Courier-Post)A proposal to bring production of medical marijuana to a Camden NJ site has sparked debate among the public and city officials.

The predominant opinion so far seems to be to keep the pot out of the city. Medical marijuana is permitted to be manufactured legally only by six nonprofit groups under a relatively new state law.

“We have problems enough already,” Cramer Hill resident Jose Santiago said. “Maybe if Camden was quieter, but not with the problems we have. You can buy pot on any corner.”

Last Monday, representatives from Mount Laurel-based Compassionate Care Inc. went before the city’s zoning board to request an interpretation on whether growing specialized marijuana and converting it to lotions, lozenges and inhalant mists is permitted in the city’s “office light industrial” zone.

The board’s attorney gave an unfavorable opinion to the interpretation, which the board unanimously voted to accept.

Developer Ilan Zaken presented two vacant buildings in an area off of Federal Street and Newton Avenue that could be utilized as facilities for Compassionate Care to produce the products and grow the cannabis.

Compassionate Care Foundation CEO William Thomas said the marijuana, which would be grown hydroponically in a secure, guarded area by qualified professionals, is meant for patients suffering from chronic pain.

Cancer and HIV/AIDS patients, he said, benefit from the drug which helps restore appetite. An estimated 70,000 people in South Jersey, he said, suffer invasive forms of cancer.

“This is only available to people who have been under the care of a doctor who is registered with the state,” Thomas explained. “The doctor has to register with the program. The doctor and the patient have to agree that everything they’ve tried (to mitigate their condition) doesn’t work.”

By law, patients would have to register with the state, agree to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks.

That can only happen if towns accept the sites.

Only one in North Jersey has been approved so far.

Regarding the proposed Camden site, Thomas said he’d be happy just to be granted a variance to produce and manufacture the cannabis and it’s products. The cannabis would be engineered so that it doesn’t produce a euphoric effect like marijuana purchased on the street.

“We’re not wed to that site being the dispensary,” he said. “If I was given permission to manufacture there, I would manufacture there and the dispensary would be a separate issue.”

Still, Cramer Hill’s Mary Cortes said as a parent and a grandparent she opposes what she called more “medicinal dumping” in Camden.

The city is already home to methadone clinics and needle-exchange programs found in few other communities in the county.

“Why not create this superfactory in the woods of the Pine Barrens where security can be maintained?” Cortes offered.

About 50 jobs for Camden residents could come from a facility inside the old clothing storage buildings being considered. About 130 people were once employed there, a stone’s throw from the old Sears department store.

Though it was a hot topic before the zoning board the previous night, there was little discussion of the potential facility at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Few residents brought it up, but following the meeting, Ward 4 Councilman Luis Lopez said it was clear that it wouldn’t be a good fit for the city.

“No way, that’s a big no-no and I don’t think anyone on this board is going to be in favor of it,” Lopez said.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd noted that while the proposals will go through proper protocols, as a city resident and as its leader, she doesn’t welcome a medical marijuana facility.

“I just don’t think it’s a good business to have in the city of Camden,” Redd said. “We’re dealing with so many issues and now the residents are starting to speak against it. The zoning board has already voted against it.”

In Westampton, Burlington County, officials last month also rejected Compassionate Care’s bid to place a growing and production facility in a building that shares a parking lot with a Cracker Barrel restaurant and is located about 300 feet from a residential neighborhood. A proposal for a site in Maple Shade was rejected last year.

Opponents of the facilities statewide received the backing of Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday.

In Camden to tout education reform, Christie criticized the legislature for passing what he called a “very flawed” medical marijuana bill.

“We see now how flawed it is as we’re trying to implement it,” Christie said. “There was no thought given to what would happen if no one wants to take these dispensaries or these farms to grow marijuana.”

The bill was signed into law days before then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s term ended.

“You’re seeing all across our state, in town after town, urban centers like Camden, suburbs in the central and northern part of our state, all saying they don’t want them,” Christie said.

“I will tell you very clearly that I will try to enforce the law, but I will not do it by forcing municipalities to take these facilities.”

His comments came the day after Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County, announced he is moving to introduce legislation this week that would prohibit counties and municipalities from interfering with development of medical marijuana sites. That legislation would extend protection to growers under the state’s Right to Farm Act.

O’Scanlon has been on record saying the legislation would quash “not in my backyard” arguments against what is currently allowed by state law.

“I think it should tell the legislature a lot about the public’s attitude toward this if no municipality wants to take one,” Christie said.

He continued, stating local elected officials should be able to make the best decision for their towns through appropriate zoning and planning laws.

“It’s not going to be well received at my desk,” Christie said of O’Scanlon’s proposed legislation.

– Article originally from Courier Post Online.