DENNIS TOWNSHIP — Time may be running out for a resident’s attempt to get township support for a medical marijuana facility in the rural Eldora section of the township.
Emmett Vandegrift, one of the founders of Evergreen Curative LLC, is seeking a state license to grow marijuana for the medicinal market. His company has an agreement to lease a section of a shrubbery farm and an application for one of six new licenses made available under Gov. Phil Murphy’s expansion of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program.
Vandegrift said a facility in Cape May County would benefit local patients who have the required doctor’s recommendation to use the drug to treat an expanded list of illnesses and symptoms. For now, the closest medical marijuana dispensary is the Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township in Atlantic County, where at least three other applications have been made for new facilities.
Mayor Zeth Matalucci said he’s not opposed to the idea. But members of Township Committee were reluctant to sign off on the project without knowing where the more than 6,000 township residents stood. In August, the committee agreed to have a vote on the proposal in November.
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But the state plans to announce by then which of 146 applicants will receive the six new medical marijuana licenses, with two expected to be awarded in southern New Jersey. This will double the number of licenses in the state.
The application process requires a letter of support from the municipality where the marijuana is to be grown. So far, Dennis has not said yes.
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According to Matalucci, Evergreen did not file the paperwork in time to get a question on the next ballot. He said the company could go to a Superior Court judge to try to get a referendum question on the November ballot, but that would require a resolution from the governing body, and Township Committee was not willing to go that far.
“I didn’t want it to look like we were biased in support of it. It might look like preferential treatment,” Matalucci said. He made clear that the township was not asked to approve or disapprove of the proposal, only to say whether the governing body supported the possibility of having the facility in its town.
The application allows for those companies that do not yet have municipal approval to include a plan for getting it. If the state approves Evergreen’s application, Vandegrift said, he would have 90 days to get that letter of approval.
With the next chance for a ballot question a year away, he said he’s looking at other avenues to secure approval, including online polls and canvassing neighbors near the proposed site of the facility.
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“If we can get the majority of the residents to say yes, we thought maybe the mayor and the committee might be willing to come along,” Vandegrift said.
He’s also spoken to other municipalities about the potential for allowing a dispensary within their jurisdiction. He said West Cape May did not support the idea. He spoke to Lower Township in August.
The Lower Township governing body has asked its Zoning Board to look into the issues surrounding marijuana dispensaries.
So far, Matalucci said, the matter has not drawn strong comment from residents. With the potential of heavily taxed recreational marijuana being approved for those over 21 in New Jersey, a proposal Murphy backs, Matalucci said he’d like to see it handled like liquor licenses to give local governments a chance to reap some financial benefit.
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Vandegrift put economics high up in his argument for approving the proposed facility, just after the benefit to patients. He told Lower Township officials the facility would employ 160 people, adding he would look to local contractors for construction, bringing more jobs. He said the company would hire veterans, minorities, women and locals, with good salaries and benefits.
He also promised to support the community financially.
He said Evergreen has a partnership with Sea Hunter Holdings, a big player in the emerging cannabis market, which is looking at big growth in New Jersey just from the expanded medicinal facilities even before the state decides on recreational use.
“Those with medicinal licenses will have the first crack at the recreational licenses,” Vandegrift said.