February 9, 2016

NJ medical marijuana: Tough road for patients to first ATC

October 15, 2012 – The NJ Department of Health (DOH) announced today that final permits were in place for the first medical marijuana dispensary: Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, NJ. These are called “Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs)” under the severely restrictive regulations.

Greenleaf ATC effectively enjoys a monopoly on all of the legal cannabis cultivation and distribution in a state of almost 9 million residents.  One of the five ATCs is just getting started in Egg Harbor Township while the other four are not even close to opening. More than a year after gaining the initial contract three of the NJ marijuana ATCs have not even secured a location.

NJ DOH reports that about 190 patients have completed the registration process. The unique restrictions in New Jersey prevents DOH from sending out ID cards directly to the patients. Instead, all of the NJ medical marijuana ID cards will be shipped to Greenleaf Compassion Center for the patients to pick up, in person. CORRECTION – Update 10/19/12 – Some patients have received ID cards via UPS. We are waiting for more information from NJ DOH.

No announcement has been made yet from the management at Greenleaf as to when they actually plan to open their doors. In media appearances this summer Greenleaf reported that they were already growing cannabis at an undisclosed NJ location.

When Greenleaf won one of the six ATC contracts, freedomisgreen.com pointed out that they were very well connected. Former Montclair Mayor Jerry Freed personally went to bat for their application. NJ Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (Deputy Majority Leader for the Democrats) sits on their medical board.

New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is the most limited in the country.  It is the only state that requires physicians to join a special list to recommend cannabis. So far only 175 doctors are available in the program, most in northern NJ.

NJ ATCs can only provide patients with two ounces of marijuana per month. ATCs can only grow three strains of cannabis at a time; all must have less than 10% THC potency. The only forms of cannabis an ATC can sell patients are: raw plant material, lozenges and a topical cream.

New Jersey’s harsh regulations mean that the vast majority of qualifying residents will likely remain in the underground cannabis market. Without obtaining one of the extremely difficult to obtain ID cards, these seriously ill residents will be left without legal protections if they are caught by police.

Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com

NJ Gov Christie denies stalling but admits rewriting medical marijuana law

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IMPORTANT – Full Text: Department of Justice Memo on Medical Marijuana

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CONTACT: Anne Davis Esq. 732 477 4700, William Buckman Esq. 856 608 9797 or Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731


Trenton- Today a lawsuit was filed against the State of New Jersey over the failure to implement the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Named in the suit are the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and the newly appointed director of the Medicinal Marijuana Program John O’Brien.

Civil rights attorneys William H. Buckman of Moorestown and Anne M. Davis of Brick brought the suit on behalf of a New Jersey medical patient who would qualify for cannabis access. The suit also represents one of the few medical doctors who have registered with NJ to recommend medical marijuana.

The compassionate use law was passed in January 2010 with a six-month implementation timeline. But since 2010 a series of politically motivated regulatory, legislative and bureaucratic delays have kept the program from operating at all. None of the six approved Alternative Treatment Centers have been fully permitted by DHSS to open.

“We represent a patient who suffered actual damages as a result of these delays,” said Anne Davis, “He cannot utilize the cannabis because New Jersey’s lack of a working program means he could lose his disability pension if he tested positive for cannabis.”

Davis continued, “Our neighbors with AIDS, cancer, MS and the worst of medical conditions have testified before the legislature and changed the law. Now, patients and doctors have to go to court to win the rights that they should have already been afforded.”

The lawsuit gathers more than two years of facts demonstrating that those in charge of the implementation process for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program have been unable or unwilling to put the law into place.

“Today we are filing suit to require the DHHS to do what every other citizen must do – follow the law,” said William Buckman, “We are also insisting that pursuant to the legislature’s will, sick people have access to medical marijuana without fear of arrest.”

For more information about this advisory please contact Anne M. Davis Esq. 732 477 4700, William H. Buckman Esq. 856 608 9797 or Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731


New Jersey: Camden Will Consider Medical Marijuana Centers at Land-Use Hearing

2/6/2012 – A zoning hearing will be held before the Land-Use Board of Camden New Jersey on Monday February 6, 2012. These are normally rather dull meetings but on the agenda this week is a variance to allow one of the six state-approved medical marijuana Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs). Several municipalities around the state have already turned down the facilities. This has left the Garden State medical cannabis law completely stalled as none of the ATCs can find a home.

But in Camden there are some new factors to the attempt that could yield a different outcome. Instead of one of the multi-million dollar ATCs seeking permission this time it is an individual going before the local zoning board.  Frank Fulbrook has owned property in Camden since the 1960’s. He is also a local activist and a meticulous scholar. This writer interviewed Fulbrook in 2007 after he mapped all of the open-air drug markets in Camden – a rather large and risky task.

Fulbrook is considered an expert in the local planning code; he actually sat on Camden’s Land-Use Board for many years. Now Fulbrook has partnered up with a friend who owns a warehouse, they will seek the zoning approval on their own and then lease the space to one of the ATCs. Rather than coming in from outside the community asking to open such an innovative business Fulbrook and his partner are super-locals, which should give them a much better shot.

Even with all of these ducks in a row there are other factors. If you have never been to New Jersey you have still probably heard of Camden. The city sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia and remains a sore spot in the state. Yes there are happy seals barking from the gleaming NJ Aquarium, a bustling Rutgers Campus and some strips of success. But recent budget cuts have escalated the violence and blight across 95% of the already impoverished community.

Governor Chris Christie and the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) have severely altered the plans for the cannabis program. Among the buffet of new restrictions was the elimination of the provisions that allowed for the home delivery of  NJ’s medicinal cannabis. This means that patients or their designated caregiver must visit the ATCs in person. Although Camden is centrally located and has ample connections to public transportation, seriously ill NJ residents may not want to venture into the dangerous city for their legal marijuana.

Another interesting note is that half of the Camden police force was recently laid off. This has led to a sharp increase in the presence of federal agents – mainly in the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA. If the ATC is approved in Camden there may be some friction between a warehouse growing marijuana for half of South Jersey’s patients and the DEA.

Still Fulbrook is hopeful for success, “This is a good place for one of these Alternative Treatment Centers. It’s the largest population concentration in South Jersey and all roads lead to Camden. It’s hub of highways and mass transit. But there are people right in Camden that have serious medical problems like HIV/AIDS …there are a lot of people right here who can benefit from marijuana as medicine. And this can create jobs.”

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) is planning to have advocates at the hearing to testify.

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Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com



Five Ways To Get Medical Marijuana Working in New Jersey


Medical marijuana sign by activist Jim Miller on the steps of the NJ State House- *photo by Diane Fornbacher

COMMENTARY from Chris Goldstein 1/15/2012 – It has been two years since the compassionate use law passed in New Jersey. There was some hope in Trenton that day. But now there have only been delays, basement hearings and promises broken.  Not a single sprout of legal marijuana yet.

Terminal patients we work with die off while chronic patients constantly scour the underground market for medical-quality cannabis. Sadly, these patients who risk arrest every day can only expect to have better choices on the streets even if the state-authorized Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) eventually open their doors.

Governor Chris Christie and his administration have attempted to experiment with every aspect of the medical marijuana program. Politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople (in typical Jersey style) have over-indulged the Executive Branch. A pot monopoly for Rutgers; calling in the Feds; the granite wall of regulatory authority – We’ve seen it all. The end result is a failure to fully implement the law.

Among advocates there is talk of some options to truly jump-start the program for patients. In a more perfect Garden State here’s how the Governor, the Legislature and the respective state agencies could work towards a law that seriously ill residents still desperately need.

Stop the doctor registry and start the Patient Registry

Part of the regulations issued by the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) require the nation’s first registry for physicians. Only these listed docs are allowed by the state to recommend medical marijuana. Doctors, nurses, medical professionals and patients testified many times in Trenton last year as to the problems with this structure. No similar requirement is mandated for drugs like morphine. Opened in October 2010 just 109 doctors have signed up out of almost 30,000 that practice in New Jersey.

But the patient registry was never opened. This means that seriously ill individuals have no legal protections related to marijuana. Unfortunately residents with qualifying medical conditions are still part of the more than 26,000 marijuana arrests in NJ each year.

The regulations currently require that patients have a registered physician and choose one of the six ATCs to even apply for the patient registry card.  But the doctor registry list is not being made public by DHSS and none of the ATCs have opened. This leaves patients with no options. The unique and problematic physician registry could be discontinued or suspended in favor of a streamlined process for DHSS to begin issuing the patient registry cards. Patients could then be offered the legal protections that the state has long promised. The changes required are procedural language changes within the regulations. The logistics of actually issuing the cards to patients is relatively easy.

In other words: Can we stop treating medical pot as if it were highly addictive, radioactive machine gun bullets?

Grant Patients Immunity

If they could have the registry cards then patients could be offered immediate immunity from arrest and prosecution for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. (Two ounces is the monthly supply allowed under the law – the lowest in the nation.) The current regulations only protect a registered NJ patient if their marijuana product was purchased at an authorized ATC. But the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act already includes guidelines for appropriate possession and use. This could be generally applied to any marijuana, especially during this extended time that the ATCs have not been able to open. Such immunity would free the police, courts, doctors, patients and their families from having to continue dealing with an expensive and senseless criminality. Again this would only take a few changes to the regulations. This legal protection for seriously ill residents was the core intent of the compassionate use law.

In other words: Can we please finally just follow one simple rule – stop putting handcuffs on sick and dying people for having a few joints?

Allow home cultivation

New Jersey passed the first compassionate use law in the country that did not include provisions for patients or their caregivers to grow cannabis. Language to allow micro-plots of up to 6 plants was stripped away from the legislation at the last minute by the Assembly Health Committee. The vision for the program was that seriously ill residents would rely on the regional Alternative Treatment Centers for all of their marijuana. But NJDHSS and the six hand-picked ATC operators have struggled to open leaving NJ patients with no marijuana at all. The regulations from the Christie Administration further restricted the choices patients would have in their therapy. The far-reaching rules limit THC to just 10%, exclude edible preparations other than lozenges and limit each ATC to growing just three strains of cannabis.

Americans enjoy an array of consumer choices in their medical care, from their professionals to their products. But qualifying NJ residents do not currently have any cannabis, let alone a variety. Patients should have access to the strengths, strains and delivery methods that provide the best relief. Amending the NJ compassionate use law to include the original language allowing patients and caregivers to cultivate small plots of cannabis would lift the immediate barrier on patient access.  It would also give patients and doctors greater security in knowing that cannabis therapy will be tailored for specific patient needs.

In other words: The freaking US Department of Justice –THE Feds – even have a more lenient policy on individual patients growing their own compared to NJ…wtf??

Educate doctors, patients and medical professionals

New drugs and medical therapies are often marketed by for-profit companies. There are TV ads, billboards and suit-clad representatives visiting doctors’ offices with free pens and notepads. Think about the approach taken for profit-pills like Viagra. But medical marijuana in New Jersey (as it is in many states) is a not-for-profit enterprise and does not have a slick general marketing campaign. Although the six NJ Alternative Treatment Centers have tens-of-millions of dollars in start-up capital they have not planned to use any of it on public or professional awareness at this time.

The NJDHSS, Board of Medical Examiners, NJ Medical Society, State Nurses Association and other groups could fill in this information vacuum. These groups could hold seminars, compile relevant cannabis information into a statewide public journal and publish education materials. This would help residents, towns and medical professionals benefit from the medical cannabis program.

In other words: How hard would it be to go out there and talk about all of the amazing clinical research on cannabis and cannabinoids? Speaking from some experience, it might even be a little fun…

Advocate to local townships and municipalities

Politicians and state agencies could easily educate townships as to the benefits and details of the Medicinal Marijuana Program. Presentations or panels could be run during events like the League of Municipalities conference. Awareness events like Town Hall Meetings on the topic could be run by the Governor, DHSS or supporting elected officials. They could invite some of the dozens of qualifying residents, hospice nurses, doctors or other advocates who testified with solid information on the topic to speak with them or address questions.

Eighty-six percent of NJ residents support the medical marijuana law – this is the greatest level of support for any legislation in NJ. But there is a lack of information about the nuts-and-bolts of how the law is supposed to work or who it serves. Just like any other new program, the medical marijuana issue deserves the full effort of the state. Towns and municipalities deserve the tools to make effective decisions about the ATCs and their local patient population. Local governments have a special responsibility for this program, as these ATCs must serve an entire region of patients from their local base of operations.

In other words: At our Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey information booth at the NJ League of Municipalities Conference  the most common question we get about medical marijuana (we clock hundreds of these per day; no kidding)  “Do you have any free samples?”

Final Note

There really is only one way forward for New Jersey’s program: Governor Christie and the new state MMP director John O’Brien need to meet with qualifying medical marijuana patients. Listening to them, face to face, about what they need for the law to work is the best path to success.

Chris Goldstein is on the Board of Directors at The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey and NORML- NJ. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com


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New Jersey: 109 Doctors Register for Medical Marijuana

1/11/2012 – A spokesperson at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Donna Leusner, said that there are one hundred and nine physicians registered with the state’s medicinal marijuana program.  This is an increase of just nineteen since the last check on the list in June 2011.

The Garden State is requiring the nation’s first registry for doctors who wish to recommend cannabis therapy. The separate registry for seriously ill patients is not open yet. Qualifying NJ patients do not have any protection from arrest or prosecution if they are caught with marijuana.

The finalized regulations for the “Medicinal Marijuana Program” were released by NJDHSS in December 2011. The doctor registry was not written into the law, but it is part of these new regulations. Patients, scientists, doctors, nurses and medical professionals testified several times before Legislative and DHSS hearings that the registry was unnecessary and contained requirements that would discourage participation.

Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and Executive Director of The Coalition  for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) wrote about the chilling effect of the registry.

” The physician registration program is even more limiting. A new requirement says that physicians must certify that they have completed medical education in Addiction Medicine and Pain Management within the past two years. Physicians must include the course title that covers these two areas, or they will be rejected from the registry.

This is a curious add-on. Marijuana is approximately as addictive as caffeine. Physicians should not be required to take a course in addiction medicine for recommending a substance with documented low addiction potential.” read full

The former DHSS Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh testified before the NJ Senate Health Committee in March 2011 that no similar requirements existed for doctors dispensing other drugs, even narcotics like morphine.

There are more than 28,000 physicians in New Jersey. The low number of registered doctors participating in the cannabis registry so far is seen as a problem by advocates and patients. The NJ Board of Medical Examiners, The NJ Department of Consumer Affairs and DHSS are tasked with providing information to doctors about the cannabis program.

The physician registry for medical cannabis began in October 2010. The list of the registered doctors is currently not public, leaving many patients wondering how they will access the program when or if it becomes operational. DHSS spokesperson Donna Leusner said that the possibility of publishing the doctor list is “under review.”

Two years after the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law, the controversial physician registry is the only part of the NJ program that appears to be online.

None of the six Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) that will grow and dispense the cannabis have received their final permits from the state. Several have recently failed in their bids for municipal land-use variances. This means that there is no legal marijuana available in New Jersey.

The severely restrictive regulations have put qualifying residents in a Catch-22: Until one of the ATCs actually opens their doors the specially qualified doctors will not be able to register patients with the state.

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Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com