BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Existing laws protect Bernards Township for now from having a marijuana dispensary moving into town without the explicit permission of the Township Committee, township officials concluded following a discussion last week, after which they declined to take action on the issue at this time.

Medical use expanded in NJ, but recreational marijuana is still prohibited

Medical marijuana, with strict controls, is now available in New Jersey, but recreational use of the substance remains illegal in the state.

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State officials in recent months were allowing an expansion of the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, but the deadline date for applying for a new dispensary at any location in New Jersey passed on August 22, said Mayor Carol Bianchi and other officials. She said the township had received no applications seeking to open such a dispensary in Bernards.

"I feel we are adequately protected," Bianchi said. "We are prepared to address it if there an application."

Bianchi had previously said she viewed any potential siting of a medical marijuana facility in Bernards Township as a zoning issue.

During the discussion at a Township Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27, township officials were advised that the laws in place would require anyone seeking to establish a medical dispensary to obtain approval from the township zoning Board of Adjustment, as well as the Township Committee.

Bianchi said she had no idea if the state intends to allow another round of applications for new dispensaries in the future. She said she would have been more open to the idea if the medical marijuana could have been dispensed through an existing pharmacy in the township, but that apparently is not permitted.

Although the four Township Committee members present did not object to medical marijuana per se, none spoke up in favor of a dispensary at this time.

Deputy Mayor James Baldassare raised the question of whether a medical marijuana dispensary might also be able to expand into selling recreational marijuana if it ever is legalized in the future. "If it's here, what happens?" he asked.

"We don't have to decide right now because we have no application," said Township Committeewoman Joan Harris. She noted, however, that some studies have shown that marijuana use among young people declined in area where legal marijuana was available, but was "harder and costlier" to obtain.

Township Committeeman Joseph Esposito said he was left with more questions than answers following a discussion with the township's attorney prior to the public meeting. However, he added, "I could not sleep at night if I added another way for kids to harm themselves."

Township Committeeman John Carpenter, who was not present at the Aug. 27 meeting, said at a previous meeting that he wants to see both recreational and medical marijuana facilities prohibited in the township.

The meeting last night also was opened for public comment seeking input on the topic.

Nancy D'Andrea said that nearby towns declining to host such dispensaries, there would be nowhere nearby for local residents to obtain medical marijuana, if they need it. She said she had spoken to elderly residents and they were in favor of the idea.

Janice Fields, who is a candidate for Bernards Township Committee in this November's election, said that she is in favor of medical marijuana, and is "compassionate" toward those for which it would provide help. But she added she believes the township is not the right place for such a dispensary. "It's not the right location." 

Another resident noted that if medical marijuana was available through a legal dispensary, it would be merely sold _ and not used _ at that site.