Local Farming Family Struggles with Galloway Township Bureaucracy Over Cannabis Cultivation License

Jodi Hume, nursery employee, and Colleen Dunne, nursery manager, on the left, Pam and Duane Demaree, on the right

When cannabis was legalized for recreational use in 2021, only 37 licenses were available for cultivation in the state of New Jersey. A small family farm, owned by Pam and Duane Demaree in Galloway, NJ, applied for and received one of those licenses.

However, due to unexplained delays in the township council’s review process, their license was not reviewed until January, followed by an unexplained tabling of an ordinance in February. Now they face the possibility of missing out on the 2023 farming and harvest season.

The Demarees have been farming on the 40-acre property for more than 35 years and have several businesses on the land, including an irrigation company, a nursery and plant growth facility, and a Christmas tree farm. The couple wanted to embark on a new venture and decided to cultivate cannabis after thorough consideration of market conditions. They turned down several opportunities before partnering with Grasshopper Farms of Michigan.

Owned by Will Bowden, a former SWAT officer and retired US Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, Grasshopper Farms’ Michigan farm includes 160 acres and 5,000 outdoor plants producing 30+ strains of premium, sun-grown cannabis. The Michigan farm employs 45 local workers, while the New Jersey farm is set to employ 45 New Jersey residents. One notable difference with Bowden’s vision is that he is developing local farms that operate independently, not some sort of national conglomerate. “These teams need to operate autonomously because of the nature of outdoor farming,” Bowden explained. “The additional benefit is they will be able to support each other as well.”

At the time the Demarees were doing their due diligence, Bowden was doing his and narrowed his list from 30 farms down to nine. “But then I visited Duane and Pam’s farm by pure chance,” Bowden said. “The more I learned about Duane and Pam, the more I wanted to work with them. For me, this life and everything I do is all about people, and the reason why we have been successful in Michigan is because of the team.

“The reason we’ll be successful in New Jersey is because of the team,” Bowden says. “Pam and Duane are amazing people, leaders, farmers, neighbors, and members of the Galloway community.”

Procedural Abnormalities

The Galloway Township Council had drafted a proposed ordinance for a first reading on January 24, 2023. But only minutes prior to that meeting the council decided to “table” it until the next meeting in two weeks.

This was a huge surprise to the Demarees, Bowden and all involved.

The Galloway Township leadership includes Mayor Anthony Coppola Jr., Deputy Mayor Tony DiPietro, and Council Members Rich Clute, RJ Amato III, Tom Bassford, Clifton Sudler Jr. and Muhammad Umar.

Grasshopper Farms said it had developed an open and honest relationship with members of the council, and meetings were held with the cannabis committee and other constituents had been briefed. The resources and research available were plentiful. Open invitations to visit the Michigan farm and surrounding communities were also offered.

Grasshopper Farms had also proposed a two-year pilot program that allowed the township to continuously check in on the farm for assurance that all regulations were being followed. If not, the council could shut down operations, with all the risk placed on the Demarees and the investors.

According to reports after the January 24 Council meeting, a community group was concerned with a particular property directly across the street from their neighborhood and what consequences could stem from their farming operation which was slated for indoor growth. Although that property is zoned “industrial,” the possibility of an indoor farm is still unclear.

Following the January 24 township council meeting, the Demarees and Bowden continued to meet with the Cannabis Committee and some council members, reaffirming a commitment to a trial period and creating what will be the gold standard farm in New Jersey. The Demarees and Bowden also met with Stockton University, which is in Galloway Township and situated five miles away from the Demaree farm. Stockton University has a cannabis degree program and is excited that Grasshopper Farms can be a site for their students to engage in internships, a graduation requirement.

The Demarees and Bowden were excited to bring outdoor cannabis farming to New Jersey and Galloway Township in a way that could help develop a path for other farms who are challenged with how to manage the business of their crop selection. Being selected as one of the first 37 conditional licenses was an honor. Now, it would seem Galloway Township is taking an unnecessary and excessive amount of time for an industry they approved to move forward.