When New Jersey lawmakers adopted medical marijuana in 2010, hopes were high the state could deliver needed medication to thousands of patients.
Now, however, the program is stuck in a political and bureaucratic quagmire so deep critics say it’s barely functioning. And with Gov. Chris Christie openly antagonistic to MMJ, there’s little likelihood a fix will come soon.
“We have a dysfunctional program, and I think it’s going to take some sort of ‘pot summit’ bringing together patients, doctors, and legislators to really make this a success,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a sponsor of the bill that legalized medical pot. “We are hearing more and more anecdotal evidence that dispensaries are not sustaining themselves, the quality [of the weed] is not always there, and it’s difficult for doctors and patients to get into the program.”
Low Enrollment Plagues Medical Pot
Among other problems, few patients – just 2,432 – have signed up for MMJ, according to the Newark Star-Ledger. Some observers worry the program may not be able to survive with so few participants.
Patients, lawmakers, and people in the marijuana industry put the blame on the Christie administration and the tight rules it has forced on MMJ in New Jersey. Those rules have driven up prices for cultivators and patients, forcing many to turn to the black market instead.
What’s more, few doctors are willing to recommend medical pot to their patients. As in some other states, there is a deep distrust of MMJ among New Jersey’s medical community.
Lawmakers approved medical weed, and then-Gov. John Corzine, a Democrat, signed it into law four years ago. But he left office soon after, and his successor, Christie, has taken a hostile position on medicinal cannabis.
Proponents of the law had expected to enroll between 5,000 and 50,000 patients by now, but the numbers have fallen far short. Participation more than doubled over the past year following the opening of two new medical marijuana dispensaries, but the increase wasn’t enough to make up for failed expectations.
“We thought we would have 10,000 patients by now,” said Yale Galanter, spokesman for the Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge. The shop has served 1,700 patients in the last six months.
Dispensary: Too Few Patients to Stay Afloat
Patient shortages have led another dispensary to halt expansion plans. Owners of the Compassionate Care Foundation shop in Egg Harbor Township say they’ve served 600 customers – and need at least 2,000 to stay in business.
Compassionate Care opened in October using a state-financed loan. Owners say bags of weed are going to waste without patients to buy them. The company’s chief operating officer quit in June, saying he wasn’t being paid.
“It’s failing,” Rick Thompson said before he resigned. “From a business standpoint and from a patient standpoint, it’s not successful. The governor says why change anything if they haven’t shown up? Is there really no demand, or is it so hard to get access that it is easier to buy it from the high school kid down the street? It’s not like the people don’t get it another way.”
Few Doctors Recommend Medical Weed
An equally big problem: Doctors simply won’t sign up to recommend medical weed to their patients. Of the state’s 21,000 licensed physicians, only 296 have enrolled in the program.
Doctors’ names appear on a state MMJ website, and many worry that could attract the wrong kind of attention and the wrong kind of patients.
“They are not saying [their names] should be a secret,” said David Knowlton, a founder of Compassionate Care. “But having it on the website implies to patients that they can walk in and be seen.”