Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2011
Source: Philadelphia Weekly (PA)
Copyright: 2011 Philadelphia Weekly
Author: Michael Alan Goldberg


Rues Road-which winds through an idyllic and remote area of Upper 
Freehold Township, New Jersey, past lush farm fields and the 
occasional McMansion set back on a sprawling parcel of land-doesn't 
look much like a battlefield. But it's become ground zero in the 
fight over the state's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, in 
limbo for nearly two years since former Gov. Jon Corzine signed the 
bill on his last day of office in January 2010.

A pot farm wants to move into a property on Rues Road, residents are 
up-in-arms, and medical marijuana advocates say a tiny but adamant 
group of anti-weed activists is behind efforts to stall the act 
indefinitely. And while many eyes here have been focused on New 
Jersey's nascent medical marijuana program as a potential model for 
Pennsylvania to adopt, the only lesson that seems to be coming out of 
the Garden State is how to pass a law without ever actually implementing it.

In July, Gov. Chris Christie, who's made no bones about his disdain 
for the law, reluctantly announced that New Jersey was forging ahead 
with the delayed and highly regulated program because the federal 
government-which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance 
with no medicinal value-assured him that state and local employees at 
facilities growing or dispensing the drug would not be prosecuted.

The announcement gave the green light to six nonprofit alternative 
treatment centers (ATCs) mandated by the act as the state's sole 
providers of medical marijuana-two ATCs each in South, Central and 
North Jersey-to find suitable locations for their operations, with 
the provision that they first had to get approval from local 
municipalities before setting up shop.

So far, that's proved difficult. In October, Compassionate Sciences 
ATC's proposed location in Maple Shade was rejected by the township's 
zoning board. The Compassionate Care Foundation ATC received the 
preliminary go-ahead for a site in Westampton, Burlington County, but 
was informed a few weeks ago that it now has to go before the 
township's Land Development Board early next year for approval.

But things have reached a fever pitch in Upper Freehold, where 
Breakwater ATC wants to set up its marijuana grow operation on a 
half-acre of land on one of two sites along Rues Road (they're also 
considering two other sites within a mile of Rues Road). Hundreds of 
outraged people packed a local school auditorium on Nov. 22 to 
express their concerns over a possible increase in danger and 
crime-armed thugs coming to their quiet town to steal the weed, 
marijuana customers smoking weed in the Breakwater parking lot then 
driving around stoned, etc.-as well as the stigma of being home to a 
pot farm. In the wake of that meeting, the Upper Freehold Township 
Committee is set to pass an ordinance on Dec. 15 that would ban any 
enterprise that violates federal law.

Despite Christie's public assurances that the feds will keep their 
noses out of pot farms throughout the state, that's still not good 
enough for Upper Freehold Mayor LoriSue Mount, an ardent Christie 
backer who sits on the five-person township committee and strongly 
supports the ordinance on principle. "It's not a decision about 
whether medical marijuana is right or wrong, or right in Upper 
Freehold Township or another town," she says, insisting that she's 
not necessarily personally opposed to the idea of medical marijuana 
for patients suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases. 
"It's strictly that it's prohibited by federal law, and if we stop 
paying attention to the laws, where do we end up? It would be anarchy."

But Chris Goldstein, spokesman for the Coalition of Medical Marijuana 
New Jersey, says that's bogus. He believes Christie purposely delayed 
implementation of a law he personally despised under the guise of 
concerns about federal prosecution-which Goldstein says would be 
"remarkably unlikely"-as long as he could, and now the tactic is 
being employed on the local level.

"The very clear friction that's happening between state and federal 
law on this issue is making it easier for a minority opposition to 
hold back this law," Goldstein laments.

Noting that a Rutgers-Eagleton poll issued on Nov. 30 found that 86 
percent of New Jerseyans support medical marijuana, Goldstein 
believes that just a handful of people are coordinating efforts 
across the state to stymie ATCs from getting the necessary municipal approvals.

"What you've got is sour-grapes opposition who lost the battle for 
the bill reorganizing opposition on the local level, in each of the 
places there's a land use hearing," says Goldstein, pointing to one 
foe in particular: 64-year-old Belvidere lawyer David Evans, head of 
the Drug Free Schools Coalition and a longtime anti-pot crusader.

Goldstein accuses Evans of using "reefer madness" scare 
tactics-through phone calls, e-mails and other means-to rile up 
locals in Upper Freehold, Maple Shade and elsewhere, as well as get 
in the ears of various committee members, zoning officials and others 
in charge of the ATC approval process. He says Evans or his close 
allies have "been spotted at many of these hearings," an assertion 
backed up by Chuck Kwiatkowski, 40, a fellow medicinal pot advocate 
who suffers from multiple sclerosis and says he smokes weed in lieu 
of 27 prescriptions (at a cost of several hundreds of dollars a month 
that he doesn't have) recommended by his doctor.

Kwiatkowski, who lives in North Jersey, says he traveled to the Nov. 
22 meeting in Upper Freehold to support Breakwater because he figured 
Evans would be there. He says Evans wasn't there, but claims that 
some of his people (whom Kwiatkowski recognized from other hearings) 
were-heckling him and chanting slogans like "Up with hope, down with dope."

"They treated me like I was the devil, and I have MS," says Kwiatkowski.

Reached by phone at his Belvidere office, Evans says the accusations 
being leveled at him are ridiculous. He denies attending any meetings 
anywhere in the state relating to ATC approvals. He says he's spoken 
with one member of the Upper Freehold Township Committee (whose name 
he says he can't recall) "briefly on the phone" and "I may have 
talked to a council member in Montclair," where Greenleaf Compassion 
Center is trying to open a pot dispensary.

"I have not had an ongoing communication with any of these people," 
says Evans. "The only thing I've done was I've sent them the 
arguments why [medical marijuana] is illegal under federal law, and 
I've tried to show them news stories about what's been happening in 
other states and how local people are objecting to it and so forth."

Evans also denies that he's responsible for any kind of effort to 
stir up local residents in areas where ATCs are trying to lay down roots.

"What these people would like to do is blame this all on me instead 
of saying that there are people in the state that don't like this," 
he says. "It's a lot easier to make me into a bogeyman than accept 
the reality of what's really going on here."

Upper Freehold resident Kimberly Lima, a 40-year-old mother of two 
small boys, says she's spearheaded local opposition to 
Breakwater-personally obtaining more than 600 signatures for a 
petition against the ATC-mostly over concerns about her family's 
security. She insists she's never heard of Evans, and resents the 
suggestion that he's behind the furor.

"I find it so highly offensive that we would need an outside 
influence to tell us what we can do in our neighborhood," she fumes. 
"Most of the reason why we're so against Breakwater coming here is 
because we know our area. And we know how this is going to change the 
character of the area."

Evans says he's delighted by the opposition to Breakwater and the 
other ATCs. Anti-pot to the hilt, Evans cites numerous studies that 
claim marijuana is harmful, particularly to people suffering from 
cancer and HIV/AIDS. He says there's no scientific basis for medical 
marijuana, and points out that smoked marijuana has never been 
approved as medicine by the Food and Drug Administration. Evans 
thinks the public has been hoodwinked by medical marijuana advocates 
whose real goal, he believes, is the legalization of recreational 
weed, which, he says, "would be a disaster."

"These medical marijuana people make very compassionate arguments and 
they bring in people in wheelchairs, and everybody says 'Ohhhh' and 
their hearts melt and they say, 'Give them whatever they want,'" says 
Evans, who also disputes the veracity of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll.

"If you ask, 'Are you in favor of giving marijuana to people who are 
dying and in pain?' then sure, everybody would say, 'Yeah.' But if 
you ask, 'Are you in favor of giving people a medicine that isn't 
safe or effective and hasn't been approved by the FDA?' then people 
would not be in favor of it."

Breakwater says that if the Upper Freehold ordinance is passed on 
Dec. 15, they'll challenge it in court. A statement issued by the 
company last week read, in part, "We will use every means at our 
disposal to enforce our right to own and operate a greenhouse 
facility that complies with existing zoning regulations...this course 
of action would be both expensive and regrettable for all parties involved."

In a subsequent phone conversation, a Breakwater representative 
reiterated the company's intention to make a stand in Upper Freehold 
rather than give up and seek an alternate site-as other ATCs have 
done-and endure similar struggles in other towns.

Goldstein says that if the state's medical marijuana program wasn't 
so over-regulated, and that home cultivation was allowed, the current 
mess wouldn't exist. Still, he believes Christie and members of the 
New Jersey Legislature could put a stop to all of the delays and 
maneuverings by publicly exerting pressure on municipalities to 
comply with the Act. But he says their silence speaks volumes.

"It's all politics-they can have the appearance of being 
compassionate, but at the same time they can know that on the ground 
they're never really going to have an operating program," says 
Goldstein, who says that most patients in New Jersey have given up 
hope that they'll ever be able to get their hands on legal medicinal marijuana.

"This program has been designed to fail."
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