The Wait For Medical Pot Too Much For Some [AUDIO]
New Jersey's medical marijuana Law continues to be bogged down in a maze of big government bureaucracy.
That's the claim of activists and lawmakers, who say the fact that there's only one legal place to buy the drug tells us all we really need to know.
"Three years into the program there are still thousands of sick and dying patients who do not have safe or legal access to their medicine," says patient/activist Jay Lassiter, who uses medical cannabis to get relief from symptoms associated with HIV treatment. "There is still only one dispensary. New Jersey's Compassionate Use Act mandated six sites within six months. It's been three years."
Vanessa Waltz of Princeton who was diagnosed with late stage cancer in her mid-30s says over-regulation is another problem. She also claims the Greenleaf Compassion Center, the state's lone dispensary is forcing eligible patients to literally wait too long for medical marijuana.
Waltz patients are being told there is a seven-month backlog.
"You know who really doesn't have seven months?" asks Waltz. "Patients with six months to live. Yeah. So, six months to live, seven months to get medication. That math does not add up folks. That math turns patients into criminals."
Waltz says during her chemotherapy treatments, marijuana gave her hope and eased her symptoms.
"In order to use marijuana for relief I had to become a criminal because I didn't have safe, legal access," says Waltz. "Denying us safe, legal and timely access to medical marijuana as allowed under New Jersey State law, that's the real crime here."
Lassiter blames Governor Chris Christie and his Administration for the program's deficiencies.
"NJ's medical marijuana program is not where it should be three years into its implementation," says Lassiter. "It's over-regulated, over-taxed and impractical to access, especially for terminally ill patients who live in the southern two-thirds of the state. It's hard to imagine the State Government running any program so incompetently.
"New Jersey's medical marijuana represents Big Government at its worst."
No Response From Greenleaf
In an automatic electronic reply, the Greenleaf Compassion Center confirmed an email from this reporter seeking a response to Waltz's claims was received. No one from the center responded to the request for comment.
Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has spearheaded the effort to legalize medical marijuana and he continues to push for improvements to the program.
"The opening of the Greenleaf Compassion Center is a much welcomed sign in this long-sought progress for the patients who have been waiting for this program to become reality," says Gusciora. "However, this program will only be successful if all patients throughout our state have reasonable access to this treatment, so it's crucial to see more progress on the additional five locations that should be opened by law."
The law also has the support of a State lawmaker many consider to be the most conservative member of the legislature. He also feels the Medical Marijuana Program is getting bogged down by over-regulation.
"My philosophy on New Jersey's medical marijuana law is that we should be empowering doctors to treat their patients as they see fit and not have lawyers or bureaucrats standing in the way," says Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll. "That why I'm frustrated at the State's implementation of this law, which smacks of big-government overreach."
"I concluded long ago that burdensome regulations are bad for business and a threat to our liberties. New Jersey's clumsy, hyper-bureaucratic roll-out of its medical marijuana law only affirms that belief."
NJ Health Department Comments
A State Department of Health spokesperson sent an email response saying Governor Christie has taken a responsible approach to administering medical marijuana for qualified New Jersey residents. Following the opening of the first medical marijuana dispensary, the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposal doubles funding for the program with an increase of $823,000 for a total of $1.6 million.
The email goes on to say that this week, the Department informed Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Twp. that it has approved the participation of several key board members and as well as its financial structure. The next step is for them to tell the program when they are ready for an inspection of their facility in order to get a permit to grow.
A third Alternative Treatment Center (ATC), Compassionate Care Center of America in Woodbridge is very far along in the process. An examination of its principals and finances is ongoing according to the email and two other ATCs have secured locations and examinations of their key board members are ongoing.
"The Department is committed to ensuring ATCs are operated by responsible individuals who embrace our goals of timely, safe and responsible access by patients," according to the response.