Medical Marijuana in New Jersey: 'This Law Was Designed to Fail'

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 19 | Posted Dec. 12, 2011

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Rues Road—which winds through an idyllic and remote area of Upper Freehold Township, New Jersey, past lush farm fields and the occasional McMansion set back on a sprawling parcel of land—doesn't look much like a battlefield. But it's become ground zero in the fight over the state's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, in limbo for nearly two years since former Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill on his last day of office in January 2010.

A pot farm wants to move into a property on Rues Road, residents are up-in-arms, and medical marijuana advocates say a tiny but adamant group of anti-weed activists is behind efforts to stall the act indefinitely. And while many eyes here have been focused on New Jersey's nascent medical marijuana program as a potential model for Pennsylvania to adopt, the only lesson that seems to be coming out of the Garden State is how to pass a law without ever actually implementing it.

In July, Gov. Chris Christie, who's made no bones about his disdain for the law, reluctantly announced that New Jersey was forging ahead with the delayed and highly regulated program because the federal government—which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance with no medicinal value—assured him that state and local employees at facilities growing or dispensing the drug would not be prosecuted.

The announcement gave the green light to six nonprofit alternative treatment centers (ATCs) mandated by the act as the state's sole providers of medical marijuana—two ATCs each in South, Central and North Jersey—to find suitable locations for their operations, with the provision that they first had to get approval from local municipalities before setting up shop.

So far, that's proved difficult. In October, Compassionate Sciences ATC's proposed location in Maple Shade was rejected by the township's zoning board. The Compassionate Care Foundation ATC received the preliminary go-ahead for a site in Westampton, Burlington County, but was informed a few weeks ago that it now has to go before the township's Land Development Board early next year for approval.

But things have reached a fever pitch in Upper Freehold, where Breakwater ATC wants to set up its marijuana grow operation on a half-acre of land on one of two sites along Rues Road (they're also considering two other sites within a mile of Rues Road). Hundreds of outraged people packed a local school auditorium on Nov. 22 to express their concerns over a possible increase in danger and crime—armed thugs coming to their quiet town to steal the weed, marijuana customers smoking weed in the Breakwater parking lot then driving around stoned, etc.—as well as the stigma of being home to a pot farm. In the wake of that meeting, the Upper Freehold Township Committee is set to pass an ordinance on Dec. 15 that would ban any enterprise that violates federal law.

Despite Christie's public assurances that the feds will keep their noses out of pot farms throughout the state, that's still not good enough for Upper Freehold Mayor LoriSue Mount, an ardent Christie backer who sits on the five-person township committee and strongly supports the ordinance on principle. "It's not a decision about whether medical marijuana is right or wrong, or right in Upper Freehold Township or another town," she says, insisting that she's not necessarily personally opposed to the idea of medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases. "It's strictly that it's prohibited by federal law, and if we stop paying attention to the laws, where do we end up? It would be anarchy."

But Chris Goldstein, spokesman for the Coalition of Medical Marijuana New Jersey, says that's bogus. He believes Christie purposely delayed implementation of a law he personally despised under the guise of concerns about federal prosecution—which Goldstein says would be "remarkably unlikely"—as long as he could, and now the tactic is being employed on the local level.

"The very clear friction that's happening between state and federal law on this issue is making it easier for a minority opposition to hold back this law," Goldstein laments.

Noting that a Rutgers-Eagleton poll issued on Nov. 30 found that 86 percent of New Jerseyans support medical marijuana, Goldstein believes that just a handful of people are coordinating efforts across the state to stymie ATCs from getting the necessary municipal approvals.

"What you've got is sour-grapes opposition who lost the battle for the bill reorganizing opposition on the local level, in each of the places there's a land use hearing," says Goldstein, pointing to one foe in particular: 64-year-old Belvidere lawyer David Evans, head of the Drug Free Schools Coalition and a longtime anti-pot crusader.

Goldstein accuses Evans of using "reefer madness" scare tactics—through phone calls, e-mails and other means—to rile up locals in Upper Freehold, Maple Shade and elsewhere, as well as get in the ears of various committee members, zoning officials and others in charge of the ATC approval process. He says Evans or his close allies have "been spotted at many of these hearings," an assertion backed up by Chuck Kwiatkowski, 40, a fellow medicinal pot advocate who suffers from multiple sclerosis and says he smokes weed in lieu of 27 prescriptions (at a cost of several hundreds of dollars a month that he doesn't have) recommended by his doctor.

Kwiatkowski, who lives in North Jersey, says he traveled to the Nov. 22 meeting in Upper Freehold to support Breakwater because he figured Evans would be there. He says Evans wasn't there, but claims that some of his people (whom Kwiatkowski recognized from other hearings) were—heckling him and chanting slogans like "Up with hope, down with dope."

"They treated me like I was the devil, and I have MS," says Kwiatkowski.

Reached by phone at his Belvidere office, Evans says the accusations being leveled at him are ridiculous. He denies attending any meetings anywhere in the state relating to ATC approvals. He says he's spoken with one member of the Upper Freehold Township Committee (whose name he says he can't recall) "briefly on the phone" and "I may have talked to a council member in Montclair," where Greenleaf Compassion Center is trying to open a pot dispensary.

"I have not had an ongoing communication with any of these people," says Evans. "The only thing I've done was I've sent them the arguments why [medical marijuana] is illegal under federal law, and I've tried to show them news stories about what's been happening in other states and how local people are objecting to it and so forth."

Evans also denies that he's responsible for any kind of effort to stir up local residents in areas where ATCs are trying to lay down roots.

"What these people would like to do is blame this all on me instead of saying that there are people in the state that don't like this," he says. "It's a lot easier to make me into a bogeyman than accept the reality of what's really going on here."

Upper Freehold resident Kimberly Lima, a 40-year-old mother of two small boys, says she's spearheaded local opposition to Breakwater—personally obtaining more than 600 signatures for a petition against the ATC—mostly over concerns about her family's security. She insists she's never heard of Evans, and resents the suggestion that he's behind the furor.

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Comments 1 - 19 of 19
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1. Ken Wolski, RN said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 04:16PM

“The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey (CMMNJ) has endorsed Assembly Bill A4252 which decriminalizes possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana in New Jersey. The bill currently has seventeen sponsors led by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-25) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R-15). CMMNJ has taken this action because:
1.) Nearly two years have passed since the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law, yet not a single patient has received legal medical marijuana; and,
2.) Patients continue to be arrested and imprisoned in this state for using medical marijuana illegally to treat their medical conditions; and,
3.) Countless patients who could benefit from medical marijuana are currently disqualified from participating in New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) and will continue to be disqualified for the foreseeable future.

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2. kakv said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 04:39PM

“I am an Upper Freehold resident, I was at the meeting where Chuck Kwiatkowski claims that people treated him like the devil and were chanting some chant. This is absolutely false!! No one was chanting anything. Our taxpayers and citizens simply were getting up and expressing their concern for their community. He was never treated with any disrespect. People should really question why Breakwater is so bent on coming to a community that is ill-suited for this type of business. It has been recommended they set up shop down the road in an industrial complex as they plan on growing their marijuana hydroponically. A warehouse setting already has the infrastructure in place, is well lit, security monitored, etc. and poses no risk to any residential homes. This "compassionate" organization simply has no "compassion" for the residents of Upper Freehold. At the end of the day this is really all about money!”

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3. Kim Lima said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 04:55PM

“I had a what I thought to be a good conversation with the reporter of this article. I explained that everyone was respectful and no one was heckled. I also stated that there were no outside Anti-marijuana people at the meeting. The residents stood up and gave valid reasons why this is not an appropriate venue for Breakwater to set up shop due to the lack of infrastructure, the incompleteness of Breakwater's application, the validity of their license and the environmental concerns is would bring to Upper Freehold. At no time did anyone stand up and say they feared people smoking in the Breakwater parking lot and pot being leaked into our community. I am saddened that again the truth of this matter is not given.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 05:24PM

“Everyone makes it out that by not wanting marijuana farms in a particular town is hurting the patients. Selfish, fear-mongering, without compassion are tags being thrown at residents of UFT. Open your eyes people-This is a government problem- not a small town problem. People of UFT, Maple Shade, etc. who pay their taxes and contribute to their community have a right to oppose a business coming in that they feel doesn't fit in. Just like any other town has the right to INVITE IN these types of businesses to their towns if they want them. Has anyone done that yet? Hey Mr. Politicians...Scutari, Gusciora and Carroll - why not put these ATC's in your towns since you want them so badly? Let the Fed and State Govt figure out what they are doing before dropping this issue in the laps of small town local governments.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 05:54PM

“@ Anonymous #4, EXACTLY. This is about government not planning or even trying to come up with solutions that are good for everyone. It is not fair to burden small towns with dealing with a brand new horizon. And all you have to do is look towards California to see what can happen. Citizens have a right to be concerned. The State should grow and distribute to serious medical patients only, just like the Federal government does on their medical marijuana farm at the University of MIssissippi.”

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6. Dave said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 06:23PM

“Put these pot plantations on state property like a prison,security DONE ! Heavily lit compound DONE ! Barbed wire 12 ft walls DONE ! 24 hours security DONE ! Let the inmates tend to the crop! The state can now pay legal fees incurred from selling a federal illegal drug .

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7. Buddylove said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 07:03PM

“This line is the biggest load of malarky. "heckling him and chanting slogans like "Up with hope, down with dope." "They treated me like I was the devil, and I have MS," says Kwiatkowski. This is a flat out lie. I was there. It's obvious SOMEONE was HIGH because I sat 2 row behind Mr. K and there was no heckling, chanting or disrespect towards Mr. K. This sounds as ridiculous as that clown that compared our meeting to one with pitchforks & torches. Oh please.. Get real. Put down the weed & clear your head before you submit an article.

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8. Jiggy Washington said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 07:48PM

“I thought the goal of these providers of Medical Marijuana was compassion?

Slapping a lawsuit on a township for not wanting your business does not seem very compassionate to me.

Compassion is not "We want whats best for our customers and screw anyone that gets in our way"..... there are two sides to this.

Set up your facility in one of the hundreds of the empty industrial buildings available around the state. In a town with the proper infrastructure that can support it.

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9. NJjerseyNJ said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 08:58PM

“Wow it sure looks like the anti-marijuana folks are well schooled at trolling articles about them.

Was there video of the Upper Freehold meeting? That should settle what happened.”

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10. CommonSenseApproach said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 10:09PM

“@NJjerseyNJ said....did you happen to notice that Ken Wolski, in his comments did not validate any of Charles Kwiatowski's claims? Do you think if Charles was being honest Ken Wolski would have mentioned it? NJ 12, The Messenger, The Examiner and The APP all covered this meeting and none of them mentioned what Charles said, wonder why that is? Is it possible it didn't happen? Is it possible Charles made it up ? The media was there and they didn't report it hmmmmmmm curious.”

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11. Charles Kwiatkowski said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 11:10PM

“See they all got there Pitchforks again!

I am so lucky to have MS this year for my 15th Christmas in a row.

Everyone in town has marijuana but me. That really helps.

Even the one female resident mentioned "You dont need heavy security to grow marijuana, why I know where some is growing right now over by some local field she referenced." This woman lived right next to the Rues Farm, same road.

Guess it will be fun shoveling all the snow we got last year with MS and no Weed. Unless your connected?

Bah Humbug!

Charles Kwiatkowski
Hazlet, NJ 07730”

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12. John Chase said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 11:17PM

“Just legalize the stuff. New Jersey, of all places, should remember the futility of trying to stop a product that people want. In the 1920s the NJ coast was part of "Rum Row", where illegal liquor was offloaded onto smaller boats to make the run to shore.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Dec 12, 2011 at 11:46PM

“Great Medical Marijuana Video from Israeli News

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14. NJjerseyNJ said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 02:52AM

“Well whatever happened at the meeting all the news seems to say that there were dozens of Freehold residents organized to oppose a medical marijuana facility. Why? Don't pharmacies exist in Upper Freehold? The biggest drug problems right now are prescription drugs like Oxycontin. Those are the drugs diverted back into our communities and schools. And the whole idea of banning any business that violates federal law could quickly put a few dairy farms in the spotlight. Sounds like reefer panic in Freehold to me.”

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15. Kakv said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 06:06AM

“@NJJerseyNJ - no there are NO pharmacies, NO banks, NO grocery stores, NO Police Force, 4 state trooper cars patrol all of UF and Millstone, 90 acres of territory which includes the NJ turnpike and Highway 195. No one at the UF meeting ever said they were against people who need mm to use it. All that's being said is our town does not have the infrastructure to accomodate this type of business. If they like this area, right down the road less than five miles is an industrial warehouse complex that is half vacant. Why won't they consider that as an option. It's the next town over, has a police force, is far from any residential homes and already has lighting, security, etc.? I don't get it. There really doesn't seem to be any compassion by Breakwater for the residents of UFT or the patients. If they wanted this up and running, they would do it in a more appropriate venue....they'd rather tie the whole thing up in a law suit trying to ram it down the throats of a quiet, rural town.”

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16. Dave said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 08:04AM

“Remember,after 6 not for profit pot farms are open for business 2 in north Jersey 2 in central and 2 in south Jersey. They can have FOR PROFIT POT FARMS !!!! So don't think this is not driven by money in the end it's always about show me the money ! As for Charles I too was there with my family and we heard nothing negative towards him. Also the lady he is speaking about Doesn't live on or near Rues rd.”

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17. Anonymous said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 09:51AM

“I am a local resident and in favor of the ATC. I was at the public meeting at the Allentown High School and I thought everyone was respectful. The problem is that one of the most agriculturally minded communities in the State of New Jersey (UFT) does not support a basic agricultural activity, growing plants. The problem with the State law is that it does not classify ATCs as an inherently beneficial use, thereby allowing ATCs to bypass the red tape of Zoning Boards. We need a law that states that ATCs should be encouraged in communities such as UFT. If agricultural communities like UFT don't support the cultivation of medical marijuana, then where else can ATCs grow the stuff??? Jersey City? Newark? The residents of UFT are suffering from a serious case of reefer madness and unfortunately, their leader, Dr. Charles Byrnes (who runs a family medicinal practice in Allentown), takes his lines from the scare tactics used by the federal government for decades.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 09:59AM

“I'm an UFT resident. I am for medical marijuana and for the legalization of it. What I am against is having the facility in my backyard. This thing will resemble a prison. I might be OK with something that is nondescript, but what Breakwater is having to build is far from it. Since no soil is needed, the growing compartments will be placed on cement and there is no requirement for sun, why don't they place their facility in an industrial/business park like The Mattrix? This would make more sense then on the corner of some country road, near a school, in a town with no police force. Everyone stop making this about marijuana being a scary drug and more about the actual facility.”

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19. malcolm kyle said... on Dec 13, 2011 at 10:40AM

“Why should anybody be surprised at Prohibition's innate ability to corrupt entire government agencies?

It's more than fairly evident, and especially to those of us whose survival doesn't depend on the continuation of Prohibition, that even if we could afford to put Narcs on every single corner, it is extremely likely that at least half of them would very soon become dealers themselves. So it begs the question: Why on God's green earth do we continue as a nation to foolishly shoot ourselves in both feet?

An appeal to all Prohibitionists:

Most of us are aware by now that individuals who use illegal drugs are going to get high, 'no matter what.' So why do you not prefer they acquire them in stores that check IDs and pay taxes? Gifting the market in narcotics to ruthless criminals, foreign terrorists and corrupt law enforcement officials is seriously compromising our future. If you remotely believe that people will one day quit using any of these 'at present' illegal drugs, then you ar”


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