TRENTON — Medical marijuana may be grown and processed on preserved farms, but growers will not receive protection under the Right to Farm Act, the State Agriculture Development Committee said today.
The clarification came on the heels of a Thursday morning SADC meeting at which Upper Freehold Township residents implored the panel not to recognize medical marijuana as an agricultural crop allowed on preserved farmland. They also criticized the process that allowed a federally outlawed drug to be grown and distributed here in the first place.
Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center has expressed interest in at least five properties in Upper Freehold as sites for growing medical marijuana, Mayor LoriSue Mount said. Some of those, including at least one on Rues Road, are preserved farms.
“This is not a crop,” said Kim Lima of the township. “It is going to be cement and it is going to be grown hydroponically. We as taxpayers and as farmers have put all this land aside for preserved farmland and open space, not so a company can come in, and build something and…change the whole country atmosphere that we chose to live in.”
But medical marijuana is considered an agricultural crop based on New Jersey’s agricultural statutes, according to a question and answer statement issued by the SADC this aternoon. Therefore, it can be grown and processed on a preserved farm, according to the SADC.
Medical marijuana will be prohibited on only about 140 of the state’s 2,000-plus preserved farms, those that are protected with federal Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program funding, SADC spokeswoman Hope Gruzlovic said. Because growing marijuana is prohibited at the federal level, the Natural Resources Conservation Service will not permit it to be grown on any farm that has been preserved with federal funds, Gruzlovic said.
Medical marijuana growing and processing also is not protected under the Right to Farm Act, because the act requires compliance with all federal law, Gruzlovic said. The act provides farmers with legal protection from restrictive ordinances among other benefits, she said.
Mount said she’s not satisfied with their decision: By federal standards, medical marijuana is still illegal, she said.
“In my mind it still comes down to the bottom line, that it is against the federal law,” Mount said Thursday night. “Illegal is illegal. It’s plain and clear. If we don’t follow laws then where does that leave us?”
A Dec. 15 hearing will be held on an ordinance the Upper Freehold Township governing body has introduced; it would prohibit any project that applies to a local board that would violate federal law.
Residents said Upper Freehold Township leads the state in preserved land; 8,600 acres have been preserved here. Allowing medical marijuana would devastate the rural character of the town, they said.
They also said they were concerned about adding the potential for more crime from the facility in a town policed only by state troopers. Others said including marijuana as an agricultural crop would make government funds more difficult for traditional farmers to obtain.
“We certainly understand…just what Upper Freehold has done in terms of farming communities, quality of life, farming life,” said SADC chair and Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher at the morning meeting. “We’ve heard you.”
All the SADC’s actions are subject to veto by the governor, but the position statement is not considered a committee action, Gruzlovic said.
Breakwater is one of six facilities the state this year preliminarily approved to grow and distribute marijuana. Breakwater officer Andrew Zaleski said after the meeting that the facility also still hopes to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Manalapan but he declined to comment further.