Town Officials Come Full Circle in Supporting Marijuana Clinic

 A small borough that rejected plans for a marijuana clinic more than two years ago now will become the home of South Jersey's second dispensary. 

The Compassionate Sciences dispensary is expected to open early next year in Bellmawr in Camden County, four years after the Garden State legalized the drug for medical use.  

Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek

Bellmawr, a 3-square-mile town with 12,000 people, situated along a popular South Jersey shore route, had been approached by another dispensary operator, Compassionate Care Foundation, in 2011.  At that time, Mayor Frank Filipek said that he and the police chief and other officials had grave reservations and told the operator they would not support the proposal.

"It didn’t feel right.  I was against it," he said.  Filipek said that he feared "addicts hanging around" the facility and marijuana being freely sold to anyone who walked in.  No one wants that when they're raising children, he said. 

But now, he said he realizes there are stringent rules, including 24-hour video security surveillance and restrictions that limit the drug to only very sick people who have registered with the state and who have a doctor's prior approval.

"There's nothing I could do to stop it anyway, if they abide by all the laws," Filipek said. 

But two years ago, Compassionate Care was given the boot.  The dispensary operators gave up trying to convince Bellmawr officials and tried to open shop in Westampton, Burlington County.  But it's plans again were rejected.   

Just as the dispensary operators were about to file an already-written lawsuit, Egg Harbor Township, an Atlantic City bedroom community, welcomed them.  The facility, in a former casino warehouse, is expected to become South Jersey's first dispensary over the next two months.   

(Several of the six preliminarily approved dispensaries in the state have "Compassion" in their names, a nod to the state's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, adopted in January 2010. Some patients, however, say the program has not been administered in a compassionate fashion.  Delays in the program and rules that lack commonsense, they say, have ended up with only about 120 patients receiving cannabis so far.  So far only one dispensary has opened.)

The Bellmawr dispensary expects to serve about 3,000 patients when it reaches full capacity. Its operators say it is perfectly situated, just off the NJ Turnpike, Rt. 295, and Rt. 42, a southern shore route.