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New Jersey Medical Marijuana Rules Go from Bad to Unapproachable [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #653)
Drug War Issues

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services released highly restrictive regulations for the state's medical marijuana program last week, tightening the screws on what patients, lawmakers, and advocates were already calling the most restrictive medical marijuana program in the country. Medical marijuana supporters were quick to react.

Sen. Scutari and Mike Oliveri after January's vote
The proposed regulations limit access to patients suffering from at least one of nine specified diseases or conditions and require that their recommending physicians have been treating them for at least a year and have had seen them in their offices at least four times. Recommending physicians must be prepared to state that other therapies have been tried and failed.

Patients must then be approved by a state-appointed review panel. If approved, they can obtain medicine only from one of four dispensaries or have it delivered to them by a dispensary (unless they are within 1,000 feet of a school). Patients cannot grow their own, nor can they designate a caregiver to grow for them, although they can designate a caregiver to pick up their medicine if necessary. They are limited to two ounces per month.

The regulations specify that medical marijuana can be no stronger than 10% THC and that only three strains will be available. The medicine can be formulated as dried flowers, oral lozenges, or a spray.

Nonprofit dispensaries, or Alternative Treatment Centers, would obtain their supplies from one of two grow operations licensed by the state. Application fees for dispensaries are $20,000, with only $18,000 refundable if the application is denied. There is also a $20,000 annual renewal fee.

Limiting dispensaries to four directly contradicts New Jersey's medical marijuana law, passed earlier this year, which specifies a minimum of six.

Dispensaries would not be allowed to serve food or beverages or provide for on-site consumption, nor would they be allowed to sell marijuana-themed apparel or other paraphernalia to the public, though they would be able to sell such products to patients. And they must adhere to a written drug-free workplace policy.

Dispensaries delivering medical marijuana to patients must have two employees in the delivery vehicle. The vehicles must have separate lock boxes, one for the medicine and one for the cash. And delivery vehicles cannot bear advertising. But wait, there's more: Dispensaries must have a $1,000,000 insurance policy on each vehicle, delivery cannot be made the same day the patient places an order, and dispensaries must tell patients not to engage in "extraneous conversation" with the delivery persons.

Don McGrath, at 2004 CMMNJ event dedicated to his late son Sean
The regulations also push back the start-up date for the program to July 2011. That's a year and a half after then Gov. Jon Corzine (D) signed legislation into law. Sitting Gov. Chris Christie (R) had asked for a six to nine month delay in implementing the law earlier this year. The legislature gave him three months.

"We have designed a clinically sound program that is unique to New Jersey,’’ said Health Commissioner Poonam Alaigh. "It is a physician-driven program that provides access to qualified patients for whom conventional treatment has failed and who may benefit from medicinal marijuana as a symptom reliever. The program is also designed to ensure that patients receive ongoing medical care from a physician."

If Alaigh was happy with the regulations, the authors of the law were not. "I don't want them rewriting my law," Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union) told the Newark Star-Ledger the same day the regulations came out. He cited the proposal to reduce the number of dispensaries from six to four. He added that he was also disappointed in the proposed July 2011 start up date. "That's not right either."

"If we don’t follow the spirit of the law to a 'T' we will essentially be erasing the compassionate element in this act," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), one of the law's primary proponents, in a press release the next day. "My foremost concerns are that the department is moving towards allowing only four alternative treatment centers and two cultivation centers while also limiting the allowable THC levels and the forms in which patients can use medical marijuana. Not only does this violate the legislative intent of the bill but it also means that we will be limiting the availability of this treatment alternative to only a select few."

"It seems that the goal of the regulations is to provide the least amount of relief to the least number of patients," said Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, which spearheaded the effort to pass the legislation.  "The major problems with the proposed regulations are that they only allow for four locations where patients can access medical marijuana and they place unnecessary restrictions on those locations. Imagine if there were only four pharmacies in the whole state where seriously ill patients could get their medications."

"These proposed regulations go far beyond the already strict limits spelled out in the legislation," said Don McGrath, whose son Sean who died from a rare form of cancer several years ago and used medical marijuana to relieve the symptoms of his disease. "We already had the strictest law in the country. I don’t see how the program will be workable with these restrictions." McGrath, who advocated for the legislation for years and testified before the New Jersey Legislature on several occasions, also questioned whether the regulations violated the law and the intent of the legislators who voted for it. "The legislature clearly intended for there to be at least six locations where medical marijuana would be dispensed. That is the exact language in the bill. But the Department of Health and Senior Services has decided to reduce that number below the minimum required. How is that legal?"

"This is appalling and will hurt patients in a big way," said Michael Oliveri, who has muscular dystrophy and uses medical marijuana to treat his symptoms. "There are many stains of medical marijuana and they have different properties. There are different health benefits for each strain. Some are good for sleep, some for pain, some for appetite stimulation. Patients need to be able to access and try the type that works best for their symptoms." Oliveri, whose family lives in Oradell, moved to California several years ago so that he could legally access medical marijuana. He returned to New Jersey several times during the fight for the legislation to advocate for New Jersey to pass a medical marijuana bill.

"Rather than create a reasonable set of regulations, the Christie Administration is playing politics with the lives of New Jersey's most severely ill residents. Instead of opening a pathway to safe marijuana access these draft regulations only create more barriers," said Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey. "Patients in New Jersey now have a legal right to medical marijuana. These draft regulations are deeply flawed and do not reflect the vision that patients, advocates and the legislation have for compassionate access."

Goldstein raised suspicions that some sort of corporate-friendly fix was in. "These regulations were written for somebody. They feel that somebody can actually fulfill this the way it was written," he said.

He also questioned the department's due diligence in researching medical marijuana and programs in other states. "That they did all this research over months and months, and then came back with these regs tells me it's about politics, not about science and research," he said. "No medical marijuana expert will tell you that capping THC is a great idea or that three strains is adequate for the patient population of a whole state."

Goldstein said CMMNJ is weighing its options and will be holding a board meeting Thursday evening to plot out a course of action. "We haven't had a chance to formulate a strategy for moving forward yet, but you can rest assured we will have a loud and vocal presence."

Years of lobbying and campaigning by patients and advocates were rewarded in January, when the law was signed. Little did they know the nature of the obstacles they would face in actually getting a working law. Now they do, and the fight is on.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Stunt (not verified)

I pray that one day that whenever the time comes for all of the politicians that fought so hard against these suffering people to get their own debilitating disease... I pray that we have the strength to forgive them. 


They make it tough, I admit, but wishing pain and suffering on them would make me no better than they are, I suppose.

Fri, 10/08/2010 - 10:24am Permalink
don laface (not verified)

In reply to by Stunt (not verified)

I say screw 'em let them suffer for what they're doing..let them get a dibilitating disease!...Don't care if I'm lowered to their level...I'm nothing like them..also don't care what anyone Thinks of how I feel!!I ...definately do not accept the way they bastardized a perfectly good bill,...don't agree w/ anyone who says..''Well its a start''!!...''It's no start'' ''It's a joke''....donl

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 6:36pm Permalink

I have a diabetic gastric paresis.  Basically if I don't  take my (illegal) medicine,  I get sick with, nausea, and vomiting.  A few hits on the bong, and I get my appetite  back .again. 

Marijuana is a powerful medicine, and like all medicines It has a few side effects.  (Short term memory loss, euphoria, paranoia,   fits of coughing,  etc.) I have heard that they have a medical grade dope that take some of the side effects out. / It should I be treated as any other medicine, dispensed as any other drug, taxed and available by prescription written by a doctor.

  As it stands, good people who need the drug go without because they are law abiding citizens.


Fri, 10/08/2010 - 2:45pm Permalink
michelle clossick (not verified)

I am suffering from cancer and have been waiting for years for this to happen.It seem to me that all the help which should be offered is taken away by people who are healthy and want to  control sick people.Hasen't the goverment taken away enough of my constututonal  rights now they want to take away my right to compassion ,relief of pain..BIG BROTHER AT ITS BEST

Fri, 10/08/2010 - 9:36pm Permalink
joe spinal (not verified)

the hypocritical republican governor attempts to play doctor and fails at enacting the legislation desired by the vast majority of the citizens of the state of new jersey.  aren't the republicans the ones who advocate less governmental controls for the people?  when it comes to large corporations they do their best to deregulate them to the point of fiscal irresponsibility and bring about a state of near depression due to the monetary crisis.  if the republicans did not hide behind the bible they would have very few votes.  it should be no surprise that gov. christie is doing his best to ensure that the medical marijuana law fails - the republicans want to legislate who people marry, how babies must be born (no, women you are not allowed a choice) what medicines we can take and how potent they can be while modifying previously passed legislation on the fly - of course all of these restrictions are for our own good according to them.  it amazes me that so many people continue to drink the kool aid they offer.  perhaps people will wake up one day and see through all of the hypocrisy and lies, but don't hold your breath (don't inhale - someday they may desire to control that as well).  

Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:58pm Permalink
Carl Darby (not verified)

First you make it so damn expensive that no one can be involved.

Then you extort as much money as you can from suffering people so it can be redirected to state coffers for law enforcement of the regulations.

Then you make the regulations so extreme, complex and onerous that you never really know if you are working within the context of the law or not unless you have a lawyer on retainer.

Brilliant. Absolutely Brilliant.

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 9:37pm Permalink
Annonomous (not verified)

Seriously. The heart wants what the heart wants. I didnt make their stupid laws and I'm not gonna live by them! Attorney General Eric Holder is doing nothing more than making them all look like stupid idiots. Just like alcohol prohibition, people will always smoke and have access to marijuana and their laws will never work,. They are just uneducated people with their heads in the sand. California has started the ball rolling and it is just gaining momentum as it rools...The American people want what they want and they will have it. Eric Holder says he dosnt care what everybody else wants, he personally hates it so I guess he knows whats best for us...LOL...what an idiot....

Sat, 10/16/2010 - 3:42pm Permalink
I Like Weed (not verified)

how is it that we can have alcohol legal in the U.S. knowing that its the #1 drink that causes more deaths in the country but yet we cant have a harmless plant, that, if anything causes sleepiness and hunger....i mean seriously how many times have u heard of somebody walking into Walmart and getting trigger happy or starting random fights with random people on the street.....i seriously recommend to someone to start a website and petition the fact that if alcohol can be legal then marijuana should be legal as well. Innocent people end up in jail all for something that is not dangerous at all....somebody start that website...PLZ!!



Wed, 11/03/2010 - 10:35pm Permalink
Anonymous111 (not verified)

I think Congress is one "BIG Hallucinogenic group of old farts".

  People this is an utter Frackin joke!!!!!!!!!!!! Now the Govt is going to tell you when, when and how much WEED you can smoke, WoW.......

Are they going to tell me where i can piss to.............

Its a WEED, Its a FREE WEED, Grows in the ground free all by its self FREE.......................................

FRACK the GOVT, IT is time for a revolution, too bad everybody has mortgages and other bills to pay and dont forget that CREDIT SCORE....

Lets face it people US Govt is corrupt, the KENNEDY's got rich from MOONSHINE then it was outlawed. They say for your health but its not. It is so cheap to make whiskey that you can be a Millionaire real fast. Not much to it just a little time and effort.

Now thats a Corrupt Govt..................

Time for Politician Cleansing.......

Mon, 12/20/2010 - 7:24pm Permalink

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