By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – After Gov. Phil Murphy took office earlier this year on the promise of expanding and legalizing marijuana, some Two River towns acted swiftly to outlaw it within their borders.
Now Red Bank has officially entered the debate. And they’re ready to talk about allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
At the Aug. 15 Borough Council meeting, elected officials unanimously approved a resolution supporting new guidelines for the New Jersey Compassionate Use Marijuana Act, the state law which oversees permitted medical marijuana dispensaries – or alternative treatment centers (ATC) – across the state.
But Red Bank went one step further. The borough announced it would welcome applications for medical marijuana businesses that want to open under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Marijuana Act’s expanded program. It was pushed forward by the Murphy administration and allows for up to six more ATC’s to open in various parts of the state.
Red Bank’s reasoning was “to fulfill the needs of those patients who use marijuana to alleviate suffering from certain medical conditions,” according to the resolution.
“This does not create any zones, it does not create any parameters, it merely says that unlike certain municipalities, we’re expressing the desire to be open for discussion,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said. “It will be up to the council and the professionals to discern what conditions and parameters those areas can be designated.”
An ordinance laying that groundwork could be adopted in the coming weeks, but Red Bank is on the clock. Applications to the state Department of Health (DOH) to host one of the six new ATC’s will close Aug. 31, said spokeswoman Donna Leusner. A well-attended conference held Aug. 9 in Trenton was bustling with potential applicants.
“Six hundred people attending a pre-application conference would be a sign of a lot of interest,” she said.
New Jersey’s medical marijuana program has boomed in the last eight months. As of Aug. 13, 28,588 residents are enrolled; 10,032 have joined just since Murphy took over in January, according to information provided by the DOH. A total of 1,160 caregivers and 709 doctors are also participating.
In March, Murphy’s administration announced a number of reforms to the medical marijuana program. Sweeping changes were made to the amount of covered medical conditions, the fees for patients and caregivers, the purchasable amounts of medical marijuana and supplies set aside for hospice patients, among other guidelines.
And many believe Red Bank, a socially liberal borough of over 12,000 residents, fits right into the picture with these new guidelines.
“A town like Red Bank that is forward leaning, forward thinking, absolutely is the right place to have this type of facility,” said Scott Rudder, president of the New Jersey Cannabusiness Association.
The six current ATC’s are spread across the state in Montclair, Egg Harbor, Woodbridge, Cranbury, Bellmawr and Secaucus. None are located in Monmouth County.
Rudder said Red Bank would be an attractive option for one of the additional ATC’s thanks to it being “in the center of a lot of different areas.
“They’re perfectly situated for a type of business like this,” he added.
There was also some local support on hand Wednesday to welcome Red Bank’s resolution. Oceanport resident and medical cannabis user Jeffrey Oakes applauded borough officials.
“Some councils that we advocate with are very stuck in the ways of the old stigma of the 80-year-old prohibition on cannabis,” said Oakes. “Now we’ve all come to understand some facts. It’s a safe option to get away from opioids.”
Randolph resident Sanjay Chaudhari also welcomed the decision and thanked Red Bank for its “forward thinking.”
Where Other Towns Stand
Red Bank is far from the first town to take some official stance on legalized recreational or medical marijuana businesses in the last year. Here’s a look at where the other Two River-area towns are on the issue:
One of the toughest local laws was passed most recently. Colts Neck unanimously approved a local ordinance prohibiting growing, cultivating, farming, manufacturing, distributing and selling recreational and medical cannabis. It went into effect Aug. 8.
Rumson and Oceanport levied similar laws in the spring. No districts in either town will be permitted to have a medical or recreational marijuana dispensary.
Shrewsbury Borough passed an ordinance in October banning alternative treatment centers in town, meaning a medical marijuana dispensary would be prohibited. Cannabis oils, tinctures, lotions and any related paraphernalia are also not allowed.
Fair Haven unanimously moved to prohibit recreational cannabis dispensaries in town but did leave room for a medical dispensary to open up if sought.
Middletown took steps to introduce a law in February which would not allow businesses to grow, produce and sell recreational marijuana. However, there would be “minimal use conditions” for medical marijuana facilities. It’s taken no formal action on this law.
This article was first published in the August 23-30, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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