COURT HOUSE - Most of a three-hour Middle Township Committee meeting Aug. 5 was given over to public discussion of a proposed medical marijuana facility on the Indian Trail Road site of the former La Monica clam processing plant.
In the end, the governing body agreed to send a letter of support for the proposal.
A packed room listened to a prepared presentation by Insa Chief Executive Officer Mark Zatyrka, an acknowledged medical marijuana user.
The committee then turned over the next two hours to questions and comments from the public.
What was under formal consideration was whether the municipality would issue a letter of support to accompany Insa’s application for a state license. New Jersey recently expanded the number of medical marijuana sites it would allow in the state and set an Aug. 21 deadline for applicants for permits.
The majority of the public did not oppose the proposal, but there was significant opposition from a group of individuals who live near the proposed site. Those who did oppose the municipality's letter of support urged officials to find another location in a more remote site.
“I don’t oppose medical marijuana but I do feel that this is the wrong location,” one said, echoing the comments heard repeatedly from those who did not want the committee to voice its support for a facility in their neighborhood. The La Monica property is zoned for business activity.
Mayor Timothy Donohue said the municipality “has done its homework” on the proposal. Committee member Michel Clark, Business Administrator Kimberly Krauss, and two senior police officers traveled to the Insa faculties in Massachusetts for an on-site inspection.
Clark said he thought the company’s facilities were “top-notch” and its security excellent. Clark, a firefighter for over 20 years, said, “I am all about public safety and I have no concerns about this proposal.”
Police Chief Christopher Leusner said he had contacted the police chiefs in Egg Harbor Township, home of one of the New Jersey marijuana dispensaries, and in the locations in Massachusetts, where Insa maintains its facilities.
Leusner said the facilities have not been linked to any increase in crime or other public safety concerns. The chief was careful to say he was not endorsing recreational marijuana.
He said he had been asked by the municipality to look at the public safety issues associated with a medical marijuana facility. Having done so, he felt confident that such a facility would not pose a public safety hazard.
Those who opposed the facility did so largely because of safety concerns. They cited worries about an increase in traffic in an area with small children.
They expressed concern over possible increases in incidents where drivers are under the influence of marijuana. They also questioned security at the site where the company plans large-scale cultivation as well as dispensing of marijuana.
Some complained that municipal officials appeared to already have their minds made up regardless of what the public said. Deputy Mayor Theron "Ike" Gandy disputed that notion, saying he had arrived at the meeting to hear what the public had to say.
“If there had been a large number of people here strongly opposed, I may have had to change my mind on the support,” he said.
Donohue pointed out that the resolution of support is specific to medical marijuana. If the state later legalizes recreational marijuana, the township resolution would require Insa to return to the committee for approval before it could extend its retail sales beyond those of a medical dispensary, he said.
Massachusetts-based Insa Inc. has proposed a $10 million investment in the site to build a state-of-the-art facility for the cultivation, processing, packaging and retail sale of medical marijuana.
The company is a multi-state operator in marijuana cultivation and sales with cultivation facilities in Pennsylvania and both cultivation and retail sites in Massachusetts. It predicts that the municipal facility would create 100 jobs and expressed its commitment to hire from the local community.
Donohue said there were several potential benefits for the municipality. He noted that the La Monica plant is a blight on the area and the investment proposed by Insa could turn it into one the township’s higher-value ratables. He also reminded the public that a 2% transfer tax on marijuana dispensed at the facility would “go directly to the township.”
Both the Middle Township Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Commission expressed support for the proposal.
Gandy also pointed to the relief that would be available for medical marijuana users who must take their prescriptions to the nearest dispensary in Egg Harbor Township.
The attorney for Insa reminded the audience that the company must gain state approval for its plan and then must go through the full site plan approval process of the township Planning Board.
“That is where you will see the details. Today's presentation is a concept to seek state approval of a license,” he said.
In the end, the vote of support was unanimous.
To contact Vince Conti, email firstname.lastname@example.org.