SOMERSET, NJ - The township is positioning itself to possibly get a slice of the medical marijuana business pie.
Township Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass a resolution supporting the use of medical marijuana through an alternative treatment center in the community, thereby making it one of the municipalities that could reap the rewards of the young industry in the state.
“To me, this discussion is about jobs, but it is also about the availability to patients. The state has passed a law that marijuana is legal for medical purposes,” Mayor Phil Kramer said prior to casting his vote in favor of the resolution. “It is a drug. There are pluses to it, there are minuses to it. It has side effects, which is why it is popular in the recreational area. But it is a drug that seems to many people to be a godsend and I was pretty neutral on it until my friend got brain cancer.”
The non-binding resolution simply makes the town’s intentions clear about its willingness for a medical marijuana business to come into town, Township Attorney Louis Rainone said.
Rainone said there are currently no businesses or locations applying for one of the two new central New Jersey medical marijuana licenses recently approved by the state, but would signal potential operations to look at Franklin as a possible home.
New Jersey Assemblyman and township resident Joe Danielsen, D-17, attended the meeting and said the state is looking for communities to discuss having these businesses, and to let the state know where they stand.
Depending on the size and scope of the business, the town could see an enterprise of $2 million to $30 million come in if selected as a home for a medical marijuana enterprise.
Danielsen said the state is making a total of six new licenses available for medical marijuana businesses statewide, with two slotted for central New Jersey.
The business models include cultivation, processing and distribution.
Some of the businesses would operate in just one area, while others may operate in all three, he said.
“I’m asking you to decide this smartly, Danielsen said. “This is really going to determine where the jobs are going to be and where the tax dollars go.”
Rainone said any medical marijuana businesses would be relegated to the M1 or M2 zones, mostly in the northwest section of the township by Route 287 or a small patch of businesses near Veronica Avenue and Route 27.
According to the resolution, the M1 zone is light manufacturing and must be conducted on a minimum of five acres.
The M2 zone requires only 2-acre lot minimums, according to the resolution.
During the public discussion on the issue, the “where” seemed to be more of an overriding factor than having this type of business in the community.
“I don’t have a problem myself with medical marijuana use,” resident Bob Thomas, who is also a member of the planning and zoning boards, said. “But I see medical marijuana use becoming less restricted.”
He said the M1 and M2 zones are not “created equal” and that maybe it should be listed as a “conditional” use in those zones, where more restrictions could be placed on the businesses.
“It would take a tremendous amount of convincing for me to support a (zoning change) ordinance that would put the possibility of future marijuana facilities in town,” he said.
Another member of the public, Carol Peterson, said she is a retired advanced practice nurse and researches this issue and is kept up to date on the scientific data.
She said she was concerned about children possibly getting their hands on some of these items with marijuana in them, like cookies or gummy bears when they are not the patient they are prescribed for.
“I’ve seen kids die from overdosing with marijuana, I’ve seen kids getting into all kinds of problems, ” she said. “We’ve paid money for Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) to keep kids away (from marijuana). Whatever location you choose should be away from schools. I don’t want to see (tax) money override our children.”
The majority of public speakers, however, said they supported bringing these businesses into the township.
Deputy Mayor Shanel Robinson was absent from the meeting.
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