On Thursday, May 21, the Town Council held a special meeting to vote on a resolution to access federal aid disbursed to Essex County because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also used that meeting to hold a presentation by Green Thumb Industries (GTI), which is seeking to open a medical marijuana dispensary at 30 Pompton Avenue in the former Chase bank branch. You can watch the video here, and read GTI’s presentation. The information included comments by Verona resident Brett D’Alessandro, a Marine Corps veteran who uses medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The 10 questions and answers below offer additional perspective on medical marijuana and dispensaries. The Town Council will meet again on GTI on June 8.
- What is a medical marijuana dispensary? It is a state-licensed facility that only fills prescriptions for medical marijuana. You cannot fill a medical marijuana prescription at a regular chain or independent pharmacy in New Jersey. You cannot buy recreational marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary, and you cannot buy medical marijuana without a prescription. A medical marijuana dispensary is not prohibited by Verona zoning.
- How does someone get a medical marijuana prescription? It isn’t easy. You must be a New Jersey resident and have a medical marijuana card from the New Jersey Department of Health’s Division of Medical Marijuana. You must have at least a one-year relationship with a doctor registered with the state’s Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) and have one of the approved debilitating medical conditions.
- What conditions qualify? Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, anxiety, cancer, chronic pain, dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), glaucoma, inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease, intractable skeletal spasticity (muscle rigidity caused by diseases like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy), migraine, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, opioid use disorder, positive status for HIV or AIDS, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, seizure disorder including epilepsy, terminal illness with prognosis of less than 12 months to live and Tourette syndrome.
- Will the proposed Verona medical marijuana dispensary be too close to schools? No. Under New Jersey criminal code Section 2C:35-7, it can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school or school bus and Laning Avenue School is 0.5 miles or 2,640 feet from 30 Pompton Avenue, the address of the proposed dispensary. Spectrum360, the former Children’s Institute at the corner of Bloomfield and Sunset Avenues, is 0.3 miles if you walk the sidewalks, or 1,584 feet. If you could cut straight across the Pompton/Bloomfield intersection and through the yards on Sunset, it is 0.223 miles, or 1,177 feet. Spectrum360 is under contract to be sold, the school is consolidating in Livingston and a luxury apartment complex is planned for the site.
- Will a medical marijuana dispensary lower property values in Verona? A new report by the National Association of Realtors seems to indicate No. It found that 85% of realtor members in states where only medical marijuana is legal have not seen a change in residential property values near dispensaries. Two percent said values had increased substantially and two percent said they had decreased substantially. In states where, both recreational and prescription marijuana are legal, 60% to 75% of realtors have not seen a change in residential property values. During the 2014 referendum on turfing and lighting the fields at Verona High Schools, opponents asserted that the value of neighboring properties would fall because of that work. They have not.
- Will a medical marijuana dispensary cause crime to rise in Verona? Probably not. A 2019 study co-authored by a professor of economics at Harvard University found no increase in violent or non-violent crime in states that legalized medical marijuana. There was an increase in crime in states that legalized recreational marijuana, but it appears to be violence between gangs that used to sell black-market marijuana.
- Is medical marijuana legal in New Jersey? Yes, since 2010, but recreational marijuana is not. New Jersey is one of 29 states that allow medical marijuana. There will be a referendum for recreational marijuana on this November’s ballot. It would legalize the cultivation, processing and sale of retail marijuana to anyone 21 or older. Marijuana is not, however, legal according to the federal government and the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, its highest designation.
- If the recreational marijuana referendum passes could the Verona dispensary sell it? Probably not. The Town Council would still have the power to ban recreational marijuana retailers and was talking about doing so last year when it looked like the state legislature might vote to legalize marijuana.
- How can marijuana be illegal at the federal level and legal in states? According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, Marijuana: Medical and Retail— An Abbreviated View of Selected Legal Issues, while the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause preempts any state law that conflicts with federal law, a “majority of state courts have concluded that the federal-state marijuana law conflict does not require preemption of state medical marijuana laws.” While federal authorities could charge a business or individual with a Controlled Substance Act violation, the Congressional Research Service said that federal criminal enforcement guidelines advise limiting investigations and prosecutions to the “most egregious affront to federal interests.”
- How many medical marijuana patients are there in New Jersey? According to the Division of Medical Marijuana, there are now 72,325 patients. New Jersey’s population is 8.9 million. Only 1,124 doctors out of New Jersey’s 30,891 doctors are registered with the MPP program and available to evaluate patients for prescriptions. The wait to see an MPP doctor can be long–and expensive. Health insurance won’t cover either the doctor visit or the prescription.