Those fears are unfounded because strict state regulations will require the marijuana operations to be secure, said Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R., Monmouth). The bill he plans to introduce next week would assist the state's six medical marijuana operations in getting up and running.
"My goal is to help people get through their fears and reset the debate to get this necessary and efficacious drug into the hands of people that need it," O'Scanlon said.
His bill would classify marijuana growers as farmers under the state's Right to Farm Act, which, according to the Agriculture Department's website, would protect them against "nuisance actions and unduly restrictive municipal regulations."
The bill says "no county, county board, or municipality may prohibit or restrict" a medical marijuana operation as long as it provided round-the-clock guards or an alternate security plan approved by a local board. It also would allow a pot farm on preserved farmland.
"These growing centers will have more security than your CVS on the corner," O'Scanlon said. "I'm not going to let people off the hook for choosing to be ignorant."
Officials on zoning and land use boards in Maple Shade, Westampton and Camden had barred the pot farms, saying their zoning laws had not contemplated such businesses. The Upper Freehold Township Committee voted against accepting any applications from marijuana growers because, it said, federal law outlaws such businesses.
New Jersey is among 14 states that allow medical marijuana. The U.S. Department of Justice has issued memos saying it will not prosecute the operations as long as they comply with their state's regulations.
When a reluctant Gov. Christie gave the medicinal marijuana program the go-ahead last summer, he said he had looked into the issue and believed such operations would not be in jeopardy.
The law was enacted two years ago, but only one of the state's six preliminarily approved marijuana operations has received a green light from local boards. Montclair in Essex County has given its permission for a pot farm.
Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, email@example.com, or @JanHefler on Twitter. Read her blog at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz