It looks like it will be a fall harvest for medical marijuana in New Jersey.
State officials have approved plans for a medical marijuana center in Woodbridge to open as soon as September, the same month that another center is scheduled to open in Egg Harbor Township.
The centers would triple the number of places in New Jersey where marijuana is legally grown and sold to patients, following the opening of the first center in December in Montclair.
This schedule would dramatically increase the pace of openings under the tight regulatory oversight of the Christie administration, which has been accused by some medical marijuana advocates of foot-dragging.
Compassionate Care Center of America Foundation Inc. is planning to operate the Woodbridge center daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to foundation attorney Yale Galanter.
“It's great news,” said Galanter, who is based in Florida, the same state where foundation president David Weisser lives. "All things being equal I would say [the center will open in] September, October at the latest. "
While Greenleaf Compassion Center of Montclair, the state’s first medical marijuana center, is operating on limited hours and plans to serve a geographically limited clientele, Galanter said he expects the Woodbridge Center to meet demand from across the state.
“I think our operation is going to be much bigger than the Montclair operation,” Galanter said.
Galanter didn’t join criticism of the administration’s approach to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, a law that Gov. Chris Christie didn’t support, although he has overseen its implementation.
“The program is just going through its growing pains,” said Galanter, who added that he didn’t think there have been any “undue” delays.
State Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd made public the approval of the Woodbridge center at an Assembly Budget Committee hearing yesterday. The approval letter was sent to Weisser on April 25.
Medical marijuana advocates response to the announcement was mixed.
Roseanne Scotti, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said she was “absolutely thrilled” that two centers could open in September.
“If we are going to have three, that is really fantastic news,” she said, adding that her organization has been concerned about the pace of the centers opening.
“There isn’t enough access at this point. A lot of patients aren’t getting their medicine, but if we are going to have two more coming online, and triple the amount of access people have, that’s going to be great for the people who need it.,” Scotti said.
Ken Wolski, executive director for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said he is encouraged to see progress but noted that adding another center won’t fix the largest problem with the system: the administration’s requirement that doctors register to prescribe marijuana.
“We still think there are too many problems with the regulations to really have a meaningful program,” said Wolski, noting that less than 1 percent of the state’s doctors have registered. “It’s not called for in the law and it’s not necessary. It’s certainly not popular with physicians and it has a chilling effect on the entire program”
Doctors have, as well as with the number of patients who have asked them to go through the time-consuming process of approving them for medical marijuana Through March, there were 208 doctors participating in the program, while 50 others who were registered weren’t active..
Health officials have emphasized that they are working to “pre-inspect” the Egg Harbor and Woodbridge facilities so that they will be able to open quickly once they have grown the plants and completed the buildings.
After Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester. and Salem) noted that only one of the six proposed centers has opened, O’Dowd said that the state has been balancing a variety of objectives.
While the “overarching goal” of the system is to provide safe marijuana to those who are authorized to receive it, the state also must make sure that the neighboring communities are protected and that the approach can withstand federal scrutiny, O’Dowd said.
The state has been building a system to regulate medical marijuana, including the capability to test a variety of different cannabinoids, the substances in marijuana that affect people. In addition, the state is testing for mold, which she said could harm patients with weakened immune systems.
While the state has been working on these issues, the most significant delays to more centers opening have resulted from what O’Dowd described as “the lack of local support to host these organizations.”
Roughly 900 residents have registered to receive medical marijuana, O’Dowd said.
Compassionate Care Foundation is planning to open its Egg Harbor Township facility in early September.