New Jersey granted its first permit Monday for a Montclair facility to immediately begin growing medical marijuana, a significant step in the program first legalized more than two years ago.
If Greenleaf Compassion Center also secures a permit for its storefront dispensary, medicinal marijuana could be available to state residents with chronic diseases by midsummer, said Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency implementing the program.
"The Department is committed to ensuring that medicinal marijuana is safely and securely available to patients as quickly as possible," department Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said in a statement.
The state also released a list of more than 100 physicians on Monday that will be able to prescribe the drug to registered patients. A patient registry should be available online in the next few weeks, Ms. Leusner said.
"We are ecstatic," said Roseanne Scotti, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for drug policy reforms. "The program will be serving this incredibly unmet need for those in pain and suffering."
Joseph Stevens, Greenleaf's president, said he still wants more assurances from the state before beginning to plant the pot in their grow house, which is in an undisclosed location in North Jersey.
He and his two partners have spent $280,000 on the program so far, Mr. Stevens said, and they want to know how many patients will be enrolling before buying materials.
"It's a good step. It seems like they got the ball rolling but we've heard that in the past," said Mr. Stevens, who intends to meet with state officials next week.
It takes four months for the pot to be harvested once it is in the ground, Mr. Stevens said.
Signed in January 2010, New Jersey's law allows medical marijuana to be prescribed by registered physicians to patients with "debilitating medical conditions," such as HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Some chronic sufferers say the marijuana helps to dampen pain and increase their appetite.
The state estimates that potential patients will number in the hundreds. Six providers were chosen to grow and dispense the marijuana to residents across the state.
After Greenleaf, Compassionate Care Foundation is the next furthest along in getting running, with the organization signing a lease for its Egg Harbor facility on Friday, Ms. Leusner said.
The New Jersey program has encountered a number of hurdles.
The Obama administration has taken a harden stance against commercial enterprises growing medical marijuana in other states, and state officials said they had to evaluate their program in response. Federal law bans the possession and sale of marijuana.
Dispensaries also encountered unexpected resistance when seeking permits to operate in several towns. The four other dispensaries still have not secured locations, although two of them are getting close, Ms. Leusner said.
"It's very frustrating when you have patients calling you every day for help," according to Ms. Scotti. "I think it is going to restore the faith of a lot of patients that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
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