By Steve Elliott
The New Jersey Health Department on Wednesday night released 97 pages of rules for what patients, advocates and lawmakers are describing as one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country.
In an extreme bonehead move, the state limited the potency of cannabis to just 10 percent THC, according to the rules. This means that New Jersey medical marijuana patients must deal with marijuana that is only half the potency of top-shelf medical cannabis in other states.
Patients must have one of nine diseases or conditions, and their authorizing doctors must have been treating them for at least a year or have seen them four times, and be willing to certify that traditional forms of relief have failed, reports Susan K. Livio of NJ.com.
Once patients pass the scrutiny of a state-appointed “review panel” — who knows what that might entail, given the other rules — they can go to one of four state-licensed dispensaries or get cannabis delivered to their homes, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
Application and renewal fees are either $20 or $200, depending on patients’ income levels. Patients can choose how they take their medication — either by smoking, taking an enhanced cannabis lozenge or applying a topical lotion containing the active ingredients in marijuana, according to the rules.
Patients can get up to two ounces of marijuana per month from their dispensaries, also called “alternative treatment centers.”
The Health Department will select just two growers to supply four nonprofit dispensaries, a departure from the law enacted by the Legislature in January. The law had called for a minimum of six nonprofit centers to both grow and sell marijuana.
Prospective dispensary operators must pay $20,000 to apply for a treatment center license, although they will get back $18,000 if they are rejected. Annual renewal fees are also $20,000.
Entrepreneurs who want to compete to be either one of the two growers, or one of the four sellers, will be able to obtain applications next week, according to Health Department press release.
|John Munson/The Star-Ledger|
|N.J. Health Commissioner Poonam Alaigh: “We have designed a clinically sound program that is unique to New Jersey”|
“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 medical marijuana as a symptom reliever. The program is also designed to ensure that patients receive ongoing medical care from a physician.”
No patients are expected to be able to get medical marijuana before the summer of 2011, according to the rules on the department’s website.
Patients will be allowed to start applying next month.
|Photo: Drug Policy Alliance|
|Roseanne Scotti, Drug Policy Alliance of N.J.: “Overall, it seems the goal of the regulations it to provide the least amount of relief to the fewest number of patients”|
A patient advocate called the new rules “disappointing.”
“Overall, it seems the goal of the regulations to provide the least amount of relief to the fewest number of patients,” said Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey.
“This wasn’t what was foreseen by advocates,” Scotti said. “We already had the strictest law in the country; I didn’t think it could get any worse.
The restrictive rules also upset Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), a primary sponsor of the law, who said he will expect them to be changed to reflect the legislation then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed in January.
Gov. Chris Christie got permission to delay the law by three months, claiming he needed more time to write the rules and create a program that could not be “exploited,” as he claimed the laws in other states had been.
A staff of at least four state employees will review patient records and written doctor authorizations.
The state will issue photo IDs to approved patients, bearing their names, addresses, and birth dates, as well as the name of a “primary caregiver” who has undergone a background check and is permitted to obtain cannabis on the patient’s behalf if necessary.
The rules will be printed in the New Jersey Register, a biweekly government publication, and a public hearing will follow.