Frank Fulbrook was a community activist who pushed hard against corporate forces to try to get a medical marijuana dispensary open in Camden. He failed that fight, but left his mark advocating various good government initiatives and holding Camden officials accountable for decades.
Frank died Tuesday. He was 64.
When I had my first conversation with Frank nearly two years ago, he spoke passionately about his plans to open a dispensary in the shadow of Campbell's Soup's corporate headquarters and the Cooper University Hospital campus.
His idea was to use two vacant warehouses to grow cannabis and sell it to gravely sick patients.
He didn't seem to recognize he was tilting at windmills. "I want to see this happen...This is a win-win-win situation. Patients need their medicine and I want sick people to get their medicine. And, this will be a new industry for Camden and it will create maybe 100 jobs," he said, with indomitable enthusiasm.
Never mind that Campbell's Soup sent representatives to the city zoning board and aggressively fought against the proposal. Cooper also issued statements saying a dispensary could increase crime in the neighborhood.
The zoning board unanimously voted no, saying a dispensary was a unique business that was not permitted in the light industrial zone.
Fulbrook was shocked. He had served eight years on the planning board and believed there were no valid grounds for rejecting the plan. "We were arguing that the production of medicine is a permitted use in a light industrial zone," he said.
City officials and board members would not comment.
Before his death, he was working on new strategies to get the dispensary approved. He had filed a lawsuit against the zoning board and relished a legal battle he expected to win.
He had an impressive resume as a government watchdog and activist. He served eight years on the planning board and was on the board of the Camden Empowerment Zone Corporation. For decades, he attended numerous civic meetings in the city. He also ran for mayor twice and for council three times to try to bring change. So what if he lost? He felt he was doing his best to change Camden, his beloved city, for the better.
Frank earned a degree in political science and urban studies from Rutgers University and taught himself to write legal briefs so that he could challenge city actions he believed were unfair. "I've done about 25 lawsuits and had 21 wins," he said, chuckling. "And I'm not a lawyer."
Even while he was ailing, Frank attended frequent meetings and spoke up for what he believed. In the spring I met him at a press conference in Trenton that was called by the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey to bring attention to problems with the state's marijuana program. He said state legislators should amend the law so that dispensaries were given status as an institution "inherently beneficial to the public good." That would make it more difficult for zoning boards to snub their noses at dispensary plans, he said.
Frank walked slowly out of the meeting, limping, but his words continued to flow at rapid speed. He had ideas and opinions that needed to take flight.
God speed, Frank.