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As you may have read, medicinal marijuana is finally going to be available in New Jersey this winter. But apparently not in the South Jersey town of Maple Shade.
On October 12, the Maple Shade zoning board unanimously rejected plans by Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center to open a medicinal cannabis dispensary at the former Office Furniture Outlet on Route 73, about a mile from Exit 4 of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Compassionate Sciences is one of six nonprofit groups that have been licensed by the state to grow and sell medical cannabis in New Jersey, and one of two that will be located in South Jersey. According to the program’s regulations, there will be two Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) operating in the state’s northern region, two in its central region, and two in the southern region. The only step standing in the way is zoning approval from the various municipalities wherein these treatment centers are to be established.
Maple Shade is the first local board in the state to deny an ATC application, and it could be a sign of a difficult road ahead.
According to news reports, the 11-member zoning board was apparently unconvinced that the ATC would be regulated carefully enough to prevent nefarious behavior from cropping up around the site. Residents were equally concerned.
In an article from Forbes.com, James Quick, a longtime Maple Shade resident, was quoted as saying, “What's to stop these people from going out in that parking lot, smoking that joint, getting high as a kite, going out on that highway and killing somebody? We're going to be known as the marijuana capital of New Jersey….What are we, California? What's next? Palm trees down Main Street?”
Fear of palm trees notwithstanding, I suppose this is to be expected. The Garden State’s medicinal marijuana program has been mired in false starts and legislative wrangling since it was first introduced as Senate Bill S119 in 2008. This latest step—setting up the authorized dispensaries— is just one more hurdle in a contentious matter of public health and policy.
From what I can tell, Maple Shade’s fears are unjustified. The ATCs are going to some of the most tightly regulated operations in the state, with 24/7 surveillance and security in addition to myriad stipulations limiting signage and public access.
Moreover, how is a tightly regulated, well-monitored ATC any more dangerous to a community than some of its well-established institutions? My town of Medford, for instance, is home to three liquor stores, four bars and at least five pharmacies, all of which contain countless substances that are easily and commonly abused.
I’m curious to see where things go from here. According to a Compassionate Sciences spokesperson, the group could appeal the zoning board’s decision but will most likely move on to one of several alternative sites. What will you say if they come knocking at your township’s door next?
Nick DiUlio is New Jersey Monthly’s South Jersey Bureau Chief. In addition to regularly contributing to the magazine, he has written for Slate.com, Miller McCune, Paste magazine, and numerous regional and lifestyle publications. He is also an adjunct teacher of magazine writing at Rowan University. Email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org