The owner of two vacant clothing stores near Campbell Soup Co. headquarters and Cooper University Hospital in Camden has filed a lawsuit against the city, its zoning officer and its Zoning Board of Adjustments, alleging that they illegally rejected his application to use the buildings for the production of medical marijuana.
The six-page lawsuit, filed by Ilan Zaken on Wednesday in Superior Court in Camden, argues that the city's denials should be declared "illegal and void." Zaken recently sold the vacant Sears store on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard near Campbell's.
Zaken and Frank Fulbrook, a community activist who helped with the application, sought approvals so that Zaken could convert the former store into a medical-marijuana farm and/or dispensary.
"The Camden zoning board had no valid reason to turn down our application," Fulbrook said.
Since New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act went into effect more than two years ago, only two of the six nonprofits approved by the state to sell marijuana have won the necessary local permits.
Two of the nonprofits were designated for South Jersey, including one that has been approved to open in a warehouse in Egg Harbor Township. The other, Compassionate Sciences Inc., is looking for a home.
Andrei Bogolubov, spokesman for the latter, says his group was not interested in the Camden location.
"It's really about access and where we think people would be most comfortable coming, as far as traffic patterns," Bogolubov said. "And we want to be somewhere where the community wants us."
Robert Corrales, spokesman for Camden, said the city does "not comment on pending or ongoing litigation."
After listening to arguments raised by Campbell's and Cooper, the zoning board denied Zaken's application in March. Zoning officer Edward C. Williams denied a similar permit request for the vacant stores in October.
Zaken's proposal did not comply with the uses allowed in the light-industrial zone, Williams said. The zoning ordinance does not "specifically" allow for marijuana dispensaries, he said. The board upheld his decision in a 6-0 vote.
Lawyers for Cooper, located a couple of blocks from site, told the board that a marijuana operation could create problems for the city, including increased crime and nuisance issues.