New Jersey towns need a nudge on medical marijuana

As New Jersey trudges slowly toward distributing legal medical marijuana, some towns might need a nudge to help them do the right thing — in the name of greater good. The state’s medical marijuana law is two years old, but medicinal pot is not yet available to New Jersey patients. The next step is to open growing and dispensing facilities throughout the state. Already, though, municipalities are putting zoning laws on the books that effectively bar these perfectly legal medical centers from their borders. It’s a “Reefer Madness” hysteria that is based on nonexistent fears — that facilities will lure both criminals and federal drug raids.

For the sake of the patients, this is a zoning decision that must be taken out of local hands. New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is the most restrictive in the nation. The idea that federal drug agents will raid our grow operations already has been debunked. And pot dispensaries will hold only a tiny fraction of the narcotics found in any neighborhood Walgreen’s or Rite Aid. And hold onto your cries of “home rule” — there are lots of laws that say the greater good trumps local preferences.

Eminent domain, for example, lets the state and federal government decide where to build prisons, highways, schools and other public projects over local objections. State laws prevent communities from zoning group homes and other so-called nuisances out of existence. In this case, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) would add marijuana to the list of crops protected by New Jersey’s Right to Farm Act, which protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits and municipal zoning that target ordinary farming activities — such as the use of fertilizers and farm equipment. If passed, the law would nullify anti-pot rules adopted in towns such as Upper Freehold, Maple Shade and Westampton.

The Republican from Monmouth County — where towns already have passed local ordinances banning marijuana grow facilities and dispensaries — said he has a moral obligation to right a wrong, to protect patients who need medical marijuana from unnecessary delays. Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday he believes local elected officials should be able to block medical marijuana facilities from their towns — risking still more delays toward finally getting legal pot to the patients who need it.

Continued delays accomplish nothing but to prolong the suffering of the sick. New Jersey, after years of hand-wringing, finally legalized marijuana for these patients — many of them dying, many in pain. More delays over unfounded fears amount, plainly and simply, to torture.

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