By Jaimie Julia Winters
The owner of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair says he is ready to meet the demand of more patients seeking medical marijuana when the law is passed making the plant accessible to all New Jersey patients. Legislation cleared the Assembly last week allowing all doctors — not just a licensed few — to prescribe marijuana for any condition, increase monthly dosages and make it easier for minor patients to receive edible forms of medicinal marijuana.
Since the passage of the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, many physicians and psychologists have said the law was too restrictive. Experts think it’s the doctors who should decide who has access to the plant, not legislators. However,
one legislator, who is also a doctor, is paving the way for marijuana accessibility.
“There is no benefit in denying a patient relief,” said Assemblymen Herb Conaway, a medical doctor and one of the sponsors. “Medical marijuana has the potential to treat many medical conditions. If a doctor believes medical marijuana can be an effective treatment, then they should be able to prescribe it to their patients.”
Currently marijuana is prescribed for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel syndrome and chronic patients with less than 12 months to live. Patients with HIV/AIDS or cancer and have chronic pain, severe nausea or problems with weight gain can also be prescribed. In addition, patients resistant to others drugs can be prescribed marijuana for seizure disorder, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity and glaucoma.
Last week Gov. Phil Murphy added anxiety, various forms of chronic pain, migraines and Tourette’s syndrome to the list of ailments doctors can now prescribe medical marijuana for.
Dianne Finn, a psychoanalyst in Montclair, said the legislation would go a long way in helping many of her patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety but couldn’t legally get marijuana. Psychiatrists could only prescribe it only for post traumatic stress disorder before last week.
“I have a patient who can’t eat when her anxiety is high and she is very small already,” Finn said. “Marijuana would help her tremendously.”
She also sees the positive effects marijuana has on her patients with addiction problems. One patient who stopped drinking after it was affecting his family and work life, has been able to stay off alcohol by using marijuana, she said.
“Alcohol, although legal, severely affected his life. He had severe marital problems, would have episodes of anger and blowups,” Finn said. “In all of my years as a psychoanalyst, I have seen very few negative effects with marijuana use.”
The bill sponsored by Conaway, Reed Gusciora and Tim Eustace would remove prescribing obstacles.
Gov. Jon Corzine signed the law just before leaving office, while Gov. Chris Christie who campaigned against it, implemented it just after he took office. But is was slow going, said Julio Valentin Jr. the owner of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in New Jersey. The former Newark cop was able to open Greenleaf about a year after the legislation was signed. Although all six dispensaries received their permits in 2011, some such as Secaucus, opening this spring, had to jump through some hurdles.
The law currently allows for six alternative treatment centers or dispensaries located in Montclair, Bellmawr, Woodbridge, Egg Harbor Township and Cranbury, serving about 18,000 patients. The legislation would allow for a total of 12 medical marijuana cultivator-processors like Greenleaf and 40 total medical marijuana dispensaries. Medical marijuana cultivator-processors are facilities that would be authorized to cultivate and process marijuana and marijuana-infused and marijuana-derived products, which it may supply to medical marijuana dispensaries. Medical marijuana dispensaries would be authorized to dispense marijuana and marijuana products to patients.
Valentin Jr. is expanding his current 20,000 square-foot site by 35,000 square feet to meet the demand. He says he handles anywhere from 600 to 1,000 patients a month and has never turned a patient away. The expansion, which will be for production only, will allow him to grow enough to more than double his patient base.
“We have been up and running since 2012. We know what we are doing. We can handle the increase in the numbers,” Valentin Jr. said.
He currently employs about 50 employees.
The creation of medical marijuana dispensaries or satellites will also allow more patients to be served, said Valentin Jr.
There are 475 doctors currently certified to prescribe marijuana in New Jersey, three in Montclair – a physical medicine And rehabilitation doctor, a radiation oncologist and a psychiatrist. With the legislation all doctors could prescribe.
Others changes include:
• Lowering the application fee of $200, with a reduced fee of $20 for low-income applicants to $50 or $10 for lower income patients;
• No longer requiring physicians to enroll in a physician registry as a condition of authorizing qualifying patients for the medical use of marijuana;
• Authorizing pediatricians to prescribe marijuana to minors;
• Removing limits on edible forms of marijuana typically prescribed to minors;
• Increasing prescription allowances from two to four ounces for a 30-day period;
• Allowing patients to go to any medical marijuana dispensary in the state. Under current law, patients can only go to where they are registered with, and may only be dispensed medical marijuana from, a single alternative treatment center (ATC) where the patient is registered; and
• Requiring all facilities to keep a database of registered patients.