The effort to legalize the medical use of marijuana in New Jersey has been a long, tough struggle.

The legislation was drafted to be the strictest in the nation. It was passed a full two years ago and signed into law in the final days of the Corzine administration.

The Christie administration delayed writing regulations to implement the law, and it wasn't until November that the Department of Health and Senior Services finalized the state's rules.

Now, efforts to bring medical marijuana to sick people who need it are facing another unfortunate hurdle. Nonprofit groups trying to find places to grow or distribute legal marijuana are up against local residents who don't want such facilities in their towns.

Unlike medical marijuana statutes in California or Colorado, which are loose enough to allow for widespread abuse, New Jersey's law delineates which diseases marijuana can be prescribed for and limits distribution to six nonprofit dispensaries, each of which must undergo an extensive application process, including criminal background checks of all employees.

But none of that matters if there is no place to situate a dispensary.

An Eagleton poll released in November showed an overwhelming majority of New Jersey residents - 86 percent - were in favor of making medical marijuana available by prescription. Apparently that approval doesn't extend to wanting a distribution center or greenhouse in their neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, the Land Development Board of Westampton Township in Burlington County rejected a proposal to house a medical marijuana facility in a vacant factory building.

In December, Upper Freehold Township in Monmouth County adopted an ordinance that would prohibit any medical marijuana facilities.

In October, the Zoning Board in Maple Shade, Burlington County, denied a variance for a dispensary in a former furniture store.

So far, only one dispensary, in Montclair in Essex County, has received local approvals.

Some of the dispensaries have said they will appeal the rejections in court, and that may be where this issue will be resolved. As columnist R. William Potter has pointed out, New Jersey courts have ruled that municipal land-use regulations must promote statewide policies.

Caught in the not-in-my-backyard reaction are the many patients with ailments such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis who continue to wait for a legal way to obtain the marijuana that eases their symptoms.

New Jersey has made a promise to these people. Local officials should help make sure that promise is kept.