MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — After more than two hours of testimony — much of it from residents vehemently opposed to the idea — Township Committee on Monday unanimously approved issuing a letter of support to a proposal for medical marijuana facility on Indian Trail Road.
The letter is the first step in what promises to be a long process for Massachusetts-based Insa Inc. to build a new facility to grow and sell cannabis where there is now a long-vacant seafood processing plant.
The letter is part of the process of getting a New Jersey license as an alternative care center, the state’s classification for medical marijuana facilities.
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The large property is assessed at more than $1 million. Insa CEO Mark Zatyrka said the company plans to spend about $10 million on a new building of 30,000 to 40,000 square feet. As proposed, marijuana plants would be grown inside under artificial light, dried and processed on site and sold to people with New Jersey medical marijuana cards from a dispensary on the property.
The company also plans to prepare marijuana edibles and other products there.
The project could mean 100 or more jobs in Middle Township. Zatyrka said most of those would go to local residents.
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Many of the closest neighbors were not convinced.
Brandon and Tiffany Dunn’s farm is near the proposed location. They have young children, with another on the way, and worry about the increased traffic and potential for crime if the facility is built, they told committee members.
Most of the speakers had concerns about the proposal, peppering the committee and police Chief Christopher Leusner with questions about the potential for increased cases of intoxicated driving or of people trying to break into the facility.
The proposal calls for the demolition of the former La Monica Brands seafood plant, which has been vacant for years. If the state approves a license as part of an expansion of medical marijuana facilities, Insa’s plans would then go before the township Planning Board before construction could begin.
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Mayor Tim Donohue said not everyone is going to agree with every decision.
“We’re looking at a site that’s been blighted for over a decade, that was in terrible condition when it was in operation and was a bad neighbor to all of those people there. We’re looking at putting in a brand-new business, creating 100 jobs, bringing relief to people who need this medical marijuana and doing it in a way that people will be safe,” Donohue said.
Not every speaker was against the proposal. The Middle Township Chamber of Commerce and the township Economic Development Committee have endorsed the plan. Hugh Giordano, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 152, said the proposal could bring good, high-paying jobs to the area.
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Several residents spoke of the benefits of medical marijuana to some patients, and the distance needed to travel from Middle Township to reach the nearest facility in Egg Harbor Township.
Nina McCausland told committee members she loves the piano, but her arthritis is so severe she can’t play. She now uses CBD, a derivative of the marijuana plant that is available over the counter, which she said has helped enormously.
Two township police officers visited an Insa location in Massachusetts, as did Committeeman Michael Clark and township Administrator Kimberly Krauss. Leusner told residents he has reservations about allowing recreational marijuana but is not concerned about the Insa plan. He said he has not seen any reports of increased intoxicated driving from medical marijuana.
“I was quite satisfied with the presentation and with the facility and with this company,” Clark said. “I can’t speak for all companies and I can’t speak for all facilities, but I thought it was top-notch.”
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Committeeman Ike Gandy said having a 10-year-old son was a big factor in his decision to support the project. He said from what he’s seen, school kids would not even know marijuana was grown at the site.
“From what I’ve seen so far, he wouldn’t even know it was there. He’d have a better chance of knowing that they canned clams or that we have a landfill in the middle of Burleigh Road,” Gandy said.
Some residents accused the committee members of already having their minds made up before hearing their input. Donohue said the township has been working on the proposal for a month but said the township publicized the meeting to get input.
“We weren’t required by law to have this public hearing or to do a press release or to post it on Facebook or to share it on our website. We wanted public input,” Donohue said.
At one point, he suggested that if residents are unhappy with the decisions made, they could vote the current members out of office and elect someone else.