Irony in federalism – New Jersey

Let us revisit New Jersey for a moment, with specific regard to a fascinating comment in a recent story in the Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov 26, 2011) about local opposition to Alternative Treatment Centers (“ATCs”)0.

First, back in March, the state approved the six entities described as ATCs, i.e. the suppliers to the medical cannabis market. They are as follow:
(The following information comes from a story in the Inquirer from March 21, 2011.)

NORTHERN REGION

Foundation Harmony, Cliffside Park.
Board of Directors: Maria Karavas, Ida Umanskaya, Margarita Ivanova and Dmitri Bajanov.
Proposed location: Secaucus, Hudson County.

Greenleaf Compassion Center, Montclair.
Board of Trustees: Joseph Stevens, president, CEO; Jordan A. Matthews, Robert J. Guarino.
Proposed location: Montclair, Essex County.

CENTRAL REGION

Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center, Corp., Ocean.
Board of Trustees/Officers: Richard Lefkowitz, CEO; H. Alexander Zaleski, COO.
Proposed location: Manalapan, Monmouth County.

Compassionate Care Centers of America Foundation Inc. (CCCAF), Jersey City.
Board of Directors: David Weisser, Michael Weisser and Anastasia Burlyuk.
Proposed location: New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

SOUTHERN REGION

Compassionate Care Foundation Inc., West Trenton.
Board of Trustees: William J. Thomas, David Knowlton, James C. Herrmann, Ann Marie Hill, Jeffrey Warren, JoAnn Lange, Mark Dumoff.
Proposed location: Bellmawr, Camden County

Compassionate Sciences, Inc. Sea Cliff, NY.
Board of Trustees, CEO Richard Taney, Dr. Steven Paterno, CFO Jack Burkolder; Webster Todd.
Proposed location: either Burlington or Camden County

According to the Inquirer coverage, the applicants had to show that the proposed center’s location is not in a drug-free school zone, and conforms to local zoning or the applicants have applied for a variance to permit the operation.

I find this interesting because the Inquirer just ran article about how some of the ATCs are facing opposition from the local communities in which they wish to set up. The article focuses on (a) a public hearing in Upper Freehold on an application by Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center (Central Region) to create a grow facility on a local farm and (b) a decision by a zoning board in Maple Shade, Burlington County (Southern Region) that a proposed site for Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center’s grow operation and dispensary was not appropriate.

On the other hand, the article goes on to say that Ilan Zaken, a local businessman in Camden, would like to rent commercial space to an ATC. I see only Compassionate Sciences and Compassionate Care Foundation as ATC’s in the Southern Region, so I assume that Mr. Zaken will be dealing with one of those two.

Now, the really fascinating aspect of this story is the statement that members of the township council in Upper Freehold who oppose the ATC setting up a grow facility in their town said that they would try to pass an ordinance “that would bar the town from allowing anything contrary to federal law.”

The irony here is great: state medical marijuana laws came into being because federal law will not permit any medical use of cannabis, but here a local government is attempting to prevent licensure of one of the supply-side entities legalized under state law by alluding to federal law. I see this argument as similar to the classic argument which the DEA uses to oppose all domestic reform: the US has no choice but to maintain the status quo because we are bound to international treaties which prohibit any change in US law. In the NJ situation, the locality is essentially rejecting the determination by the state government that legalized the medical use of cannabis and instead reaches up to the federal government in an attempt to declare its solidarity with federal opposition to ‘medical marijuana.’

What an interesting approach. The place to oppose the law was in the NJ legislature at the time of enactment; I would expect to see an attempt to repeal the law in the state legislature. I might also expect to see federal intervention. I might expect the localities to reject an application by ATCs on a case-by-case basis. However, this approach is something entirely: it functionally cancels the state law by resetting federal law as the applicable standard. It is not “state” action, i.e. it is not Governor Christie preventing implementation of the law: instead it is local level opposition to a business enterprise licensed by the state.

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