UPPER FREEHOLD: Medical marijuana issue continues to burn

Town passes 2nd ordinance aimed at keeping out pot farm

By Joanne Degnan, Managing Editor
   UPPER FREEHOLD — The Township Committee adopted an ordinance that prohibits local taxpayer monies from being used to preserve farmland in Upper Freehold if that land will be used to grow medical marijuana.
   The committee’s action on Jan. 19 is apparently in response to the State Agricultural Development Committee’s ruling last month, stating that medical marijuana is an agricultural crop that can be grown and processed on a preserved farm as long as the farm was not preserved with any federal funds.
   Most properties in the state farmland preservation program have had their development rights retired in deals that use a combination of state and local funds (although in some circumstances federal monies are also utilized).
   This is the second ordinance that the Upper Freehold Township Committee has adopted in as many months aimed at keeping Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center from establishing medical marijuana greenhouses here. Breakwater recently was denied zoning permits in connection with four sites in Upper Freehold it had been considering as the possible location of its central New Jersey cultivation operations, and two of those parcels, both on Rues Road, are preserved farms.
   The first township ordinance, adopted on Dec. 15, prohibits the zoning officer from approving permits for any business whose activities violate federal law. The federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal drug and makes no provisions for medicinal use as New Jersey and 16 other states do.
   Under the second ordinance unanimously adopted last week, Upper Freehold farmers cannot be compensated for permanently relinquishing the development rights to their farmland unless they sign a notarized affidavit stating that they will not lease, rent, or conduct any farming activities that violate federal law.
   The 2010 New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act allows marijuana to be grown and sold under tightly regulated circumstances in order to alleviate the suffering of terminally ill patients and those with serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis. However, Breakwater and the five other nonprofits selected by the state to cultivate and dispense marijuana have generally met stiff local opposition in their attempts to site facilities in their state-assigned regions. No marijuana cultivation facilities have been approved in the two years since the law was enacted.
   There was no public comment on the local ordinance prior to its adoption last week, but several members of the Township Committee had plenty to say in a 20-minute discussion about other recent developments related to the medical marijuana issue. Township Committee members Steve Alexander, LoriSue Mount and Robert Frascella criticized state legislation recently introduced by state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon Jr., a Republican who represents the neighboring 13th Legislative District.
   Mr. O’Scanlon’s legislation (A215) would extend the protections of the Right to Farm Act to include medical marijuana cultivation facilities. The state Right to Farm Act protects commercial farmers against restrictive municipal ordinances.
   ”I think it is irresponsible and pathetic that he chose to introduce this legislation without having first reached out to us,” Mayor LoriSue Mount said.
   The local brouhaha over the legislation is apparently moot, however, because Gov. Chris Christie has said publicly that he would veto it.