Patients and Advocates Cheer This Important Step Forward</p>
Trenton, NJ— Yesterday, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services issued a permit to Montclair-based Greenleaf Compassion Center to begin growing medicinal marijuana. Advocates, patients and families cheered this long-awaited act as an important step in the process of bringing medical marijuana to the state of New Jersey and ensuring safe access to an effective medication for seriously ill individuals.
“We are grateful to Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd for getting the program to this important milestone,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of Drug Policy Alliance, the group that led the campaign to pass the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. “The patients we work with and represent are ecstatic. They have waited so long for safe and legal access to medical marijuana and this gives them hope that that wait is coming to an end and relief is in sight.”
Don and Gerry McGrath, who have fought for years to bring medical marijuana to the state, are thrilled that New Jersey officials appear to be moving forward. The McGraths lost their youngest son, Sean, to a rare form of cancer in 2004 when Sean was only 28 years old. Sean’s doctors recommended medical marijuana to him, which proved highly effective in treating the debilitating pain and nausea he suffered from as a result of the disease. “Words can’t express what it was like to watch my son waste away before my eyes, and then on top of that pain, have to deal with feeling like criminals just because Sean used medical marijuana which helped relieve some of his suffering,” said McGrath. “I’m so grateful that the state finally appears to be moving forward with medical marijuana and that no other family will ever have to go through what my wife Gerry and our family endured.”
Before trying medical marijuana, Irvina Booker, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was in so much pain that she could not let her grandson sit in her lap. She now uses the medicine to handle basic tasks and reports that it helps her be physically and emotionally present for her family. “Medical marijuana gives me and others the pain relief that no conventional medicine has thus far. I am ecstatic that Greenleaf has been issued this permit and that I am one step closer to legally accessing the medicine that helps me the most.” Booker founded Faith is Our Pathway, a faith-based support group for individuals suffering from MS. “As a person of faith, I never lost hope that New Jersey would eventually do the right thing to further this important program.”
The permit was issued several weeks after the head of Greenleaf, Joe Stevens, threatened to dissolve the organization and accused New Jersey officials of intentionally delaying implementation of the state’s two-year-old medical marijuana program.
As required by state regulation, Greenleaf was subject to a lengthy and comprehensive review by the health department, including employee background checks, site visits by state officials to the Center’s cultivation facility and approval of its safety and security systems. Once the dispensary is operational and undergoes an additional state inspection, an additional permit must be issued before Greenleaf can begin dispensing its product to patients.
In conjunction with the issuance of the permit, the health department also published on its website the names of more than 100 participating physicians who are qualified to recommend medical marijuana. The department began contacting physicians statewide yesterday to notify them that an electronic registry is now available if they wish to participate. A patient registry will be available in several weeks, according to a press release issued by the Department of Health.
The Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act passed more than two years ago, in January 2010. The bill allows for the licensing of six Alternative Treatment Centers to grow and dispense medical marijuana to seriously ill patients. Once fully implemented, the law will allow patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis to use and possess a limited amount of medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
So far, none of the other five Centers have received state approval to begin growing medical marijuana, and only one, Compassionate Care Foundation, has secured a cultivation facility in Egg Harbor Township. It is currently awaiting state approval on its final permit to grow.