West Deptford readies ordinance on marijuana dispensaries

Posted: April 04, 2014

WEST DEPTFORD Unlike many New Jersey towns that have shunned medical marijuana dispensaries, saying their laws prohibited the business, this Gloucester County township is about to pass an ordinance specifically allowing dispensaries in an industrial zone.

Anthony Ogozalek, the town lawyer who drafted the law, said he doesn't know of any other municipality in New Jersey that has taken a similar step. But he said West Deptford officials wanted to "be proactive" and establish restrictions on where a dispensary can open if an operator approaches the town.

Marijuana dispensaries also would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and residential zones, Ogozalek said.

The ordinance is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday, at 7 p.m., at the town hall.

Four years after the state adopted a medical marijuana program, three licensed dispensaries have opened, including one in Egg Harbor Township, near Atlantic City. Three others have been granted preliminary approvals, including one that plans to open in an industrial park in Bellmawr, Camden County.

The dispensary operators have reported numerous difficulties obtaining local approval to open, saying dozens of zoning boards and town councils across the state denied permits amid a public outcry. In one case, the Compassionate Care Foundation threatened to file a lawsuit in 2012 against Westampton Township, Burlington County, as improperly rejecting its business application. Westampton officials contended the town's zoning laws did not specifically mention marijuana dispensaries as a permitted use in any zone.

The litigation was withdrawn when the nonprofit was welcomed by Egg Harbor. It opened there last fall.

West Deptford Mayor Ray Chintall said the ordinance is needed because an industrial zone is located "right across the street from our middle school" and that may be where a dispensary might want to open. "What we are trying to do is not have it in our backyard," in residential neighborhoods and near schools, he said.

Chintall, a retired state trooper, said the planning board suggested the ordinance after conducting a review. "I'm not OK with it coming into our town, but it is something the state law allows," he said. Chintall is a Republican, as are three of the other four committee members.

Michael McManamy, chairman of the planning board, said no dispensary operator had come before the board to request a permit to open, but "we realized we had no guidelines" on how that would be handled if the issue comes up. He said that the ordinance, which the board approved a few months ago, would regulate dispensaries "the same as liquor stores," establishing hours of operation and acceptable signage.

The ordinance, which requires action by the town committee to become law, would restrict the hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and would bar dispensaries from having a drive-through window, Ogozalek said. Town officials "didn't want these popping up like a regular pharmacy . . . and they didn't want them to have a drive-through capability, because there was a concern about robberies," he said.

Ogozalek said that a dispensary would be able to open in certain areas within the township and still meet the guidelines. "Towns are not allowed to spot zone," he said, or ban a business outright.


jhefler@phillynews.com

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

www.inquirer.com/burlcobuzz

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