New Jersey has moved one step closer to opening an alternative treatment center. The state health department has issued its first medical marijuana license.

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Greenleaf Compassion Center was issued a permit Monday by the Department of Health to operate as an Alternative Treatment Center (ATCs) and dispense medicinal marijuana. The permit was issued after a final Department inspection of its Montclair facility. Montclair officials also recently granted a certificate of occupancy to Greenleaf, clearing the way for the Department to grant its permit.

"This permit marks a significant step forward in the implementation of New Jersey's Medicinal Marijuana Program and allows Greenleaf Compassion Center to begin dispensing medicinal marijuana to qualified patients," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd. "The Department is working with all ATCs to ensure the program serves patients safely and securely."

Patients, Caregivers Will Get ID Cards This Week

The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act became law in January of 2010. The legislation allows patients suffering from certain debilitating and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis to use and possess medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The bill also allows for the licensing of centers where qualifying patients can safely access medical marijuana. Six centers have received licenses but Greenleaf Compassion Center will be the first to open its doors.

Patients and caregivers will receive identification cards this week from the Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP). Greenleaf will contact patients to schedule an appointment in the order in which patients registered. Patients and caregivers must bring their MMP identification card with them to the appointment.

Approximately 320 patients have either registered with the program or are in the process of completing registration, while more than 175 physicians have registered.

O'Dowd says Greenleaf won't open immediately, but patients can begin scheduling appointments.

"By the time everything is said and done, I think registered patients will begin receiving the drug by the end of the year."

Five other alternative treatment centers are in various stages of finalizing plans - including one in Egg Harbor Township and one in Woodbridge.

"This is a huge milestone," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We and the patients we work with are incredibly excited about the imminent opening of the first medical marijuana Alternative Treatment Center in New Jersey. We are equally thrilled that these seriously ill patients will now have the validation of a Medical Marijuana Program identification card. This is tangible proof of progress and a huge step towards patients having safe and legal access to the medication they need."

"I am so pleased with the Department of Health and Commissioner Mary O'Dowd. This has been a long process but theyalways kept in mind the needs of the sick and suffering. Greenleaf and the State worked hand-in-hand to make this a reality while overcoming a number of obstacles that were encountered along the way. It is now only a matter of time before those suffering from chronic illness and pain will receive the medicine they so desperately require" said Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth).