New medical marijuana dispensary opening Saturday in Paterson

A new medical marijuana dispensary is due to open in Paterson on Saturday — the first to come on line of six licensed by Gov. Phil Murphy, a move that eventually will double their number in New Jersey.

But Charlana McKeithan believes more need to be done to serve a state where 63,000 people hold cards entitling them to buy medical marijuana — as she does, to treat her fibromyalgia.

“It’s just not enough,” said McKeithan, who’s also the executive director of Garden State NORML, a group that has long advocated legalization of the drug. “You have to drive an hour to another facility. We need product — right then and there. And we need the strains that we need for our conditions. So here in New Jersey, we have to do better.”

State officials acknowledge the problem, and note that the number of those with medical-marijuana cards is growing.

“One day this week we issued 250 cards in one day alone,” said Jeff Brown, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Health. “It’s really emblematic of pent-up demand for medical cannabis in the state of New Jersey. This is an area that has been underserved. And so we are incredibly excited to bring access to patients here in Paterson and in North Jersey.”

A crowd of officials were on hand Friday, to witness Mayor Andre Sayegh cut the ribbon at Rise Paterson.

“This, I can say — on those three different levels — will be beneficial for us: the jobs, the revenue and the convenience for the constituents that really need it,” Sayegh said.

Tight regulations under former Gov. Chris Christie limited New Jersey to just six medical marijuana dispensaries statewide, including facilities in Montclair and Secaucus.

The Murphy administration dramatically expanded patient access, as it has also pushed, thus far unsuccessfully, to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults. In addition to Rise, another of the six licensed under Murphy is due to break ground in Mercer County within months.

Due to security constraints, the only marijuana on hand in Paterson on Friday was what was pictured on dispensary walls. Rise, which is growing its product in another Paterson location, will have a limited supply available Saturday, including two strains of flower, which will cost $60 for an eighth of an ounce.

“So we have Gorilla Glue, and we have Silver Tip as our two strains,” said Devra Karlebach, CEO of the outlet’s owner, Rise/GTI NJ. “We have a couple pounds of that, for sure. We have 6,500 cartridges of vape pens. And then we have tinctures as well.”

While its own crops mature, Rise will also buy product from Curaleaf in Bellmawr, one of the existing dispensaries.

The company’s operated by corporate giant Green Thumb Industries, or GTI — which holds licenses in 12 markets in the United States for 96 retail locations — including three in northern New Jersey.  Company officials say they are in talk with towns in the northwest part of the state, but won’t identify them.

The executives say New Jersey’s infamous for red tape and security concerns.

“It was a lot of work — working with the local governments, as well as the local community and making sure that they understand and that we have that communication — to make sure that this happened,” said GTI NJ’s Alixon Collazos. “So this is going to be a little bit more of the process when we work with other communities and making sure that they’re in tune with GTI’s ideals and the program.”

Former Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire is head of security for the company.

“Operating in numerous states, as we do, with dozens and dozens of other dispensaries, they kind of have the program down,” he said. “So safety and security is our number one priority for the client, for the patient, as well as for staff.”

For now, McKeithan said, many medical marijuana patients must go too far to get help.

“It’s not easy when you’re dealing with physical pain. It’s not easy at all,” she said. “There’s times where I’m in tears. But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do, because I’m not seeing a regular doctor or pain management doctor anymore.”