Cannabis, over the years, has been derisively called the “Devil’s Lettuce” by some, but in Brick, the co-owner of a would-be medical marijuana farming operation has switched her focus to lettuce – actual lettuce, that is.
Two days before the township’s zoning board was (and remains) set to determine whether the growing of cannabis or hemp is permitted in the Rural Residential zone, in which the proposed farm is located at 385 Adamston Road, the applicant’s counsel wrote a letter to the board’s attorney saying his client now wants to grow lettuce and leafy green vegetables on the site. The board, however, decided that the hearing would go on anyway, despite “conventional farming” being considered a permitted use in the zone.
Anne Davis, of Jersey Shore Therapeutic Health Care (JSTHC), which was previously proposing a medical marijuana dispensary, plus a 48,000 square foot cultivation facility, told Shorebeat that because the state’s laws on medical marijuana access and licensure are currently in flux, research prompted her to find another crop. Neighbors of the property, who have vehemently argued against the presence of a marijuana-related facility in their neighborhood, were skeptical of the lettuce plans after they received letters about the change earlier this week. But they also lobbied the township council to ban medical marijuana and hemp cultivation in the rural residential zone now that, technically, JSTHC’s application to do so is off the table.
“You’re capable of amending ordinances altogether,” said Diana Diaz, one of the objectors to JSTHC’s application who addressed the township council Tuesday night. “There is no existing application to speak to that – they’re growing lettuce.”
Some other residents said they believe the switch to lettuce farming is a ruse intended to gain approval for JSTHC to build out a cultivation facility, then revive their efforts to gain a license to grow medical marijuana.
Davis said she legitimately wants to operate a vegetable farm considering the political wrangling that is ongoing in New Jersey’s legislature over cannabis.
“There’s nothing going on in medical marijuana right now,” said Davis, who reiterated that she would not be attending Thursday night’s hearing. “We were exploring hemp but that could be down the ‘pike a bit, too.”
Through her research on cannabis and hemp farming, Davis said she became more acquainted with the growing market for organic and non-GMO green vegetables, such as lettuce, radicchio and spinach. New Jersey also has a burgeoning indoor farming community, as exemplified by AeroFarms in Newark, which also grows leafy greens.
“It’s grown in the same building,” said Davis. “We’ve already invested so much money to get where we are, so I said, ‘let’s just go with leafy greens.’”
A speaker at Tuesday’s council meeting said the vegetable farming application was “making a mockery of our town,” an argument Davis rejected. She said she does not know if her company will ever attempt to cultivate cannabis or hemp in the future, nor whether she would ever receive the slew of state and local approvals to do so.
“I don’t know that we’d ever get approved,” Davis said. “It’s a business decision, so we’re going with what we know – we know we’re permitted, we know that it’s legal, and that’s our business decision.”
Davis said she has invested a large amount of money into designing the 48,000 square foot grow house (a document posted online stating a 17,000 square foot grow house was proposed was incorrect, she said) and that lettuce is a “viable crop” that could produce a return on investment.
“Life changes, things change and the law changes,” she said. “With government regulation, you never know what’s going to happen, so right now we’re going with this.”
In the mean time, the board has chosen to meet Thursday night at Civic Plaza on Chambers Bridge Road to determine whether cannabis or hemp farming is a “conventional” farming use in the rural residential zone. Neighboring residents say the implications of the determination could affect future applications in the zone, which covers various portions of the township.
“I understand the zoning board is hearing this, and it applies to all rural residential zone in the township,” said Bill Truex, one of the neighbors who is objecting.
Truex, like Diaz, called on the township council to ban medical marijuana cultivation in the zone by ordinance, perhaps restricting it only to commercial and industrial zones.
Davis said she will pursue her “precision farming” operation and join those selling healthy, sustainable vegetables.
“It’s super, super good for the environment,” said Davis. “The indoor facility, which is common in New Jersey, uses 95 percent less water than what would be used on outdoor crops.”