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John Kasich just legalized medical marijuana in Ohio. Now what?
Jessie Balmart,

COLUMBUS - Gov. John Kasich signed a plan to legalize medical marijuana into law Wednesday, making Ohio the 25th state to approve its use.

Those suffering from epilepsy, chronic pain and the side effects of cancer treatments could soon be able to treat their pain with marijuana. Despite years of delays and opposition, state lawmakers passed a plan in May to legalize medical marijuana for those with a doctor's referral. Groups working to place a rival medical marijuana proposal on the fall ballot put pressure on legislators, but ultimately dropped their efforts after the lawmakers approved a plan.

Kasich was quiet about whether he supported legalizing medical marijuana, saying only that he would follow doctors' recommendations and wanted to help children in pain. But he ultimately signed the bill, which will take effect in 90 days.

While medical marijuana will be legal in three months, it will take much longer to set up rules for growers, dispensaries and patients. So, what comes next?

How soon can I buy medical marijuana?

If they have a doctor's recommendation, Ohioans can purchase medical marijuana from other states where it is legal as soon as Sept. 6 and bring it back into the state. Then, the Department of Commerce will have about eight months to create rules for those who will grow marijuana. After that, cultivators will need time to start growing medical marijuana, and dispensaries will set up shop. Around that time, doctors must start applying to the Ohio State Medical Board for a certificate to recommend medical marijuana.

All this means Ohioans won't be able to buy medical marijuana in-state until 2017 or early 2018. Note: Once the Ohio system is set up, Buckeyes will no longer be allowed to bring in marijuana from other states.

What kind of marijuana can I use?

Here's the big sticking point for many marijuana advocates: Under this law, it's still illegal to smoke marijuana – even if you buy it out of state. Vaporizers, edibles and oils are OK.

It goes without saying: Recreational use of marijuana also is still illegal under this law.

Which medical conditions will qualify for medical marijuana?

AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn's disease, epilepsy or another seizure disorder, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable, Parkinson's disease, positive status for HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord disease or injury, Tourette's syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and ulcerative colitis.

Who will grow the marijuana?

No one may grow medical marijuana at home or for personal use. But those who want to grow medical marijuana commercially must apply with the Ohio Department of Commerce. They cannot grow marijuana within 500 feet of a school, public playground, church, public park or public library. Those with certain criminal convictions are disqualified from growing marijuana.

Who can recommend it?

Physicians who are certified by the State Medical Board of Ohio. They could be disqualified from certification if they have a financial interest in growing marijuana, have lost their license to practice medicine or have been convicted of certain crimes. These doctors must attend at least two hours of training on diagnosing and treating conditions with medical marijuana.

Can I be fired for using medical marijuana?

Yes. Despite opposition from some Democrats, the law would allow employers to fire employees who violate office policies against marijuana use – even if the marijuana was recommended by physicians. If you are fired for marijuana use, you will not receive unemployment compensation either.

Can I vote on medical marijuana in November?

No. Several groups were interested in placing a proposal on the fall ballot, but each decided against it. The most prominent, Marijuana Policy Project and its local affiliate Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, dropped its bid just three days after senators passed the medical marijuana bill. The effort was too costly and unpredictable in a presidential election year.

"(T)he reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill," said Brandon Lynaugh, campaign manager for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, in a statement.

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NJ Weedman fighting the fight

NJ Weedman takes to the radio, blames raid of his joint on retaliation

By Anna Merriman | For

TRENTON – It's been less than a week since Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion was arrested at his combination eatery-temple in Trenton, but the outspoken marijuana advocate has taken already taken to the airwaves to tell his story.

Forchion spoke with New Jersey 101.5 Weedman's trip as a marijuana advocateradio hosts Deminski and Doyle Tuesday afternoon and called out state Senator Ray Lesniak and the Trenton Police Department for "retaliation."

That "retaliation" came in the form of a raid, Forchion said on the radio station. He was arrested along with 10 other people at his "joint" on East State Street last Wednesday and charged with possession of paraphernalia and drug possession for 5 ounces of marijuana that he'd received as a donation, he said.

Forchion said that he believes the police and prosecutor's office is acting out against him for setting up security cameras to film police activity outside his establishment and for filing a lawsuit against the city earlier this year.

Weedman's trip as a marijuana advocate

Ed Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, has been a protestor, candidate, restauranteur and defendant since the 1990s.

"I was told that this came down from high above," Forchion said Tuesday of the order to raid his joint. He went on to say that he thinks Lesniak may be behind the raid and that the senator is representing the police department.

"He's opposed to legalization," Forchion said.

At least part of the reason for his retaliation theory, Forchion said, is that he never had problems before February – and everyone knows he smokes marijuana.

"I have a bong sitting next to me right now," he said in the radio interview.

It wasn't until the February complaint, he said, that police and prosecutors started paying his establishment more attention.

Now, fresh out of jail, Forchion is inviting Mercer County Acting Prosecutor Angelo Onofri to personally handle the prosecution side of his case, while Forchion represents himself.

"I want you to do this... I want you to take this beating," he said in challenging Onofri.

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Welp, Woody Harrelson’s weed dispensary application got shot down

Ryan Creamer
May 2, 2016

But, but...weed is for the people, it's the people's weed.

On Friday, longtime weed enthusiast Woody Harrelson lost a Hawaii-wide bid for licensing a medical marijuana dispensary through his company Simple Organic Living LLC. The State of Hawaii Department of Health opened applications for "a total of eight dispensary licenses: three for the City & County of Honolulu, two for Hawaii County, two for Maui County and one for Kauai County." According to Reuters, the state "did not specifically say why the actor's application was denied." Sure, he's not too upset, though. He'll find something else to do with all that would-be dispensary money.

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N.J.’s youngest medical marijuana patient gets her turn

Remember Vivian?— Today, New Jersey's youngest medical marijuana patient, 2-1/2-year-old Vivian Wilson, left the Compassionate Care Foundation medical marijuana dispensary in a stroller with a stuffed dog. Her parents, Brian and Meghan Wilson of Scotch Plains, left with a little more hope than they had the day before.

The moment was historic for the dispensary, which opened this morning — nearly four years after the state passed the law creating the program. But it was just as important for the Wilson family and other families with critically ill children across the state. It was the first time a family was able to buy the drug that in other states has helped curb the seizures that have stunted the toddler's development, and could take her life. Vivian has a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, which conventional medicine and a strict diet have not cured.

The Wilsons fought a very public battle that compelled the legislature and Gov. Chris Christie to remove some, but not all, of the barriers that have blocked children from trying medicinal pot. After Brian Wilson confronted Christie over the summer at a diner and politely pleaded with him to not let his daughter die, the governor signed a bill that will allow edible marijuana products to be sold to children and broadened the number of strains that may be grown.

"It's great to see them open, but it's not going to help us much right now," Brian Wilson said as he strapped his youngest child in her car seat. "It's another tiny step forward."

By removing the state's limit on strains that can be sold, the dispensary can offer a wide variety — including those that may help children with epilepsy. But while the law allows edible, marijuana-infused products for children, neither of the state's two dispensaries are offering them yet.

Now the Wilsons need to figure out how to cook down the ounce of cannabis they received into a butter or an oil to add to her food, Brian Wilson said. They also need to buy the equipment that would condense the smoke that could be inhaled through a vaporizer. Then they'll need the state Health Department, if it is willing, to test the potency of the drug to make sure it contains enough of CBD, or cannabidiol -- the active ingredient that has helped reduce the number and severity of seizures in Dravet sufferers in Colorado and California. The Egg Harbor dispensary doesn't sell that strain, but they produced something with a higher CBD strain than most other plants.

"We need to test the finished product otherwise we don't know what we are giving her," Brian Wilson said. He said both he and his wife have become de facto doctors, scientists and chefs trying to keep Vivian from having seizures, which can be set off by sunlight, gazing at patterns, high carbohydrate food and many other triggers.

"Well, hopefully it will all work out," Meghan Wilson said as she left the dispensary counter with a white box containing eight plastic bottles containing 1/4-ounce of marijuana. The dispensary donated the $400 package to the family for its inaugural visit, Brian Wilson said.

"We are really excited to have her as one of our patients," said Chelsea Fleming, the dispensary manager who handed Vivian the stuffed toy.

The Wilsons were the dispensary's third patient today, and five more were expected to arrive before the day is over, CEO Bill Thomas said. On Tuesday, 12 more patients are scheduled, 20 more on Wednesday, and then 32 a day every day after. At the state's request, the dispensary is scheduling people based on the order in which they registered. Of the nearly 1,400 registered patients, 670 have selected the Egg Harbor "alternative treatment center" as their dispensary. Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, which opened in December, has served about 140 patients, creating a bottleneck for people eager to buy the drug legally.

Thomas said there is a money back guarantee if the patient finds the strain they bought isn't helping their symptoms of nausea, glaucoma, muscle spasms or other symptoms cannabis has shown to alleviate. That's why the state asked them to package it in quarter-ounce bottles — to make returns easier without wasting any of the drug.

The dispensary has tight around the clock security, Thomas said, sitting in his second-story, largely vacant office in a quiet industrial complex. In addition to the security guards, there are others who monitor the security cameras. And then there is Hans and Fritz: the German Shepherds that roam the growing area overnight.

"It's over the top, but to get started it's better to have more than less, then dial it back," said Thomas, also has his own "alarm system" — Jake, his 6-year-old yellow labrador who accompanies him all day.

The dispensary employs 12 full-timers and 15 part-timers, but a dozen more full-time workers will be added once the state Economic Development Authority cuts a check for $357,000 to expand inside the warehouse.

"It's exciting," Thomas said.



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N.J. Says O.K. to Medical Marijuana for Kids



Last month, NPQ spread the word about Charlotte Figi, a six-year-old child whose epilepsy responded positively to treatment with medicinal marijuana. The story touched a chord in many readers, who reached out to us seeking more information about access to cannabinoid treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and forms of cancer. In that story, we drew attention to the Colorado Springs nonprofit Realm of Caring, which gave aid to Charlotte. Now, the state assembly of New Jersey is taking similar steps, passing a measure that makes it more viable for children to access the state’s medical marijuana program.

Under the terms of the new law, marijuana growers will be allowed to produce more than three varieties of the plant, and to “sell edible products that children can consume.” (Adult users of medical marijuana who want edible products are stuck with lozenges.)

The bill—S2842—was initially passed in June, but Gov. Chris Christie gave the measure a “conditional veto” until certain elements were introduced; among them, the need for a pediatrician and child psychologist to sign off before treatment could begin. Although the governor thinks of the limits as “common sense recommendations” and “appropriate safeguards,” at least one mother in Hope, N.J., finds them an obstacle. “She…questioned why the recommendation of a child’s treating neurologist, oncologist, or other specialist isn’t as important than ‘some random psychiatrist or pediatrician’ who may not be involved with the child’s ongoing treatment.”

The inspiration for the bill was the story—much like Charlotte’s—of Vivian Wilson, a two-year-old from Scotch Plains. Meghan Wilson, Vivian’s mother, said in a statement that her family was “happy that this is finally being signed into law.…Our next focus will be working with [New Jersey Health Commissioner] Mary E. O’Dowd and Department of Health to ensure that this law is properly regulated according to the true intent of the law so that Vivian and all of the other patients in New Jersey can finally start getting the type of medicine they need in the form they need.”—Jason Schneiderman



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Relief elusive for N.J.’s youngest medical marijuana patient

By Susan K. Livio

Two-year-old Vivian Wilson sleeps with a heart and oxygen monitor attached to her toe. When she wakes up, the toddler must wear an eye patch and be kept from direct sunlight. An overnight bag, oxygen tanks and other medical equipment are stacked behind the sofa.

Vivian is diagnosed with a rare and severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.

These are a few of the ways her parents relentlessly manage everything that comes into contact with their youngest daughter, who suffered her first seizure when she was 2 months old.

None of it is enough. Medications help, as does a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet — every meal weighed to a 10th of a gram. But only so much.

Vivian’s parents, Brian and Meghan Wilson, enrolled her in New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program in desperation, hoping that a strain of pot that has stopped most seizures in a small but growing number of children in Colorado and California could help her.

But before her registration card arrived in February, the couple said they figured out the state’s restrictive law and medical community’s unwillingness to participate in the program is preventing any minor from getting help.

Meghan Wilson said she has been writing to and calling lawmakers to explain her daughter’s condition and to ask them to relax some of the medical marijuana program restrictions for the few children who may need it.

“All you need to do is see Vivian have one seizure and you are open to anything,” she said.

“The state says the (medical marijuana) program is active, but it’s really not,” she said, noting only about 130 of 900 registered patients have been called in to buy marijuana from the one operating dispensary because supply is scarce.

“When someone with cancer can’t even get what the state has said they need, then Vivian is probably five years away from getting what she needs.”
“I am not going to stop fighting for her,” she added. I’m fighting so she can have a childhood.”

The law requires three physicians — a pediatrician, a prescribing physician and a psychiatrist — to recommend a child for the program. The Wilsons are still looking for a psychiatrist.

A Rutherford doctor who said he has recommended three children to the program said state health officials have asked him to hold off on making any new recommendations until other willing specialists can be found. “I am actively looking,” said Anthony Anzalone, who says his practice has helped enroll 90 patients.

Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd’s spokeswoman Donna Leusner declined to comment.

If the Wilsons clear that hurdle, they’ll have to overcome other legal restrictions on what growers may produce.

They want to find a grower willing to cultivate and produce in edible form a strain of marijuana low in psychoactive properties, or what gives patients that high feeling, and high in cannabidiol, another chemical compound.

Dravet patients out West are having success with “Charlotte’s Web,” a strain named after the first child who tried it.

The dilemma is, aside from lozenges, state law prohibits the sale of edible pot products. And with New Jersey growers limited to producing three strains, devoting one that only a small number of patients may want may not be a good business decision, Meghan Wilson said.

When the Wilsons tried to enlist the help from some physicians in the past, one reacted with disgust. Another dismissed their request immediately, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics’ position against medical marijuana.

“People just don’t like to hear about marijuana and kids,” said Brian Wilson, 39, a technical consultant to a software company. “It kills me when people say, ‘Oh, we don’t know the side effects and it kills brain cells.’ Well, she’s already killed brain cells on these (prescription) drugs. The seizures have killed brain cells.”

The Wilsons are banking on a long-shot, untested remedy outside the scope of accepted medicine.

Vivian’s neurologist, a national expert in pediatric epilepsy, thinks it’s worth investigating.

Orrin Devinsky, director of the New York University and Saint Barnabas Epilepsy Center, said he believes cannabis can play a role in helping children with epilepsy.

He and the British company GW Pharmaceuticals expect a response from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this summer to their request to use cannabinoids, an active ingredient in marijuana, “as a compassionate drug in a limited number of patients whose seizures are not controlled with current medications.”

Devinsky said he’s not familiar with Charlotte’s Web. “But I have spoken to some parents from Colorado and California, and believe there is enough evidence from animal studies and anecdotal patient stories to justify more systematic study.”

As long as the federal government deems marijuana illegal with no medically beneficial use, research money will remain scarce.

So will physician interest. Larry Downs, executive director of the Medical Society of New Jersey, a physician lobbying group, said the medical marijuana program is not generating a lot of interest.

“A lot (of doctors) won’t even consider it, there is still a big research void,” he said.

Innovation is left to trial and error of cultivators like the Stanley Brothers, a Colorado Springs, Co., company. They developed Charlotte’s Web two years ago after meeting with Charlotte’s mother, Paige Figi, said Amanda Stanley, the wife of grower Joel Stanley.

He also runs the nonprofit Realm of Caring, which links families with low-cost marijuana capsules high in cannabinoids, which provide some of the helpful benefits.

“We don’t have any research money. We are a nonprofit and it’s been through our own research with experience with patients we developed Charlotte’s Web,” Stanley said. “Charlotte was our first patient, and within seven days she was seizure free.”

Figi and her daughter appear in a YouTube video laughing and playing — two things that never would have been possible before she started taking the drug, the mother said.

“We have our daughter back. She has her life back,” Figi said in the video.

“Honestly, we don’t know why it works,” Stanley said. “But our patients have had incredible results.”

One frightening episode taught the Wilsons they couldn’t rely on medication alone to keep Vivian alive and healthy.

It was at her first birthday party in April 2012. Minutes after she had gleefully dug her plump fists into her birthday cake, Vivian began to shake violently and struggled to breathe. Paramedics had difficulty opening up her airway. She spent eight days in the hospital.

Her parents and doctors put her on a physician-monitored low-carbohydrate diet consisting mostly of cheese, eggs, butter, oils, cream, avocado and a limited amount of fruits and vegetables. Devinsky, Vivian’s neurologist, said the high-fat diet “changes brain electricity in a positive way” for epilepsy patients.

Her parents hide or remove anything with stripes or brightly colored designs in their home or wardrobes; the patterns transfix her and send her into a seizure.

Wearing an eye patch has dramatically reduced the frequency of her seizures, and the sugar-controlling diet has allowed Vivian to drop from four medications to two, the Wilsons said.

“The first time we tried the patch on the recommendation of some of the moms on our Facebook support group, she had the biggest smile on her face all day. I think her brain felt quiet for the first time.”

But none of these changes go far enough to give Vivian a shot at leading a healthier, happier life, her parents say.

“Developmentally, Vivian is like a 1-year-old — she doesn’t talk, she can’t run, she kind of walks like a little baby zombie,” said Meghan Wilson, 34, a clinical study manager for a pharmaceutical company.

Her 3½-year-old sister, Adele, who is there for Vivian with a blanket and a gentle hug, is suffering too because the sisters can’t share many activities.

The Wilsons have considered moving to Colorado, but the born-and-bred New Jerseyans would rather remain close to their families. They are determined to make a case that the state medical marijuana law should change.

It’s not clear how many families want their children to participate in the state’s 5-month-old medical marijuana program. Leusner, the spokeswoman for Health Commissioner O’Dowd, declined to say how many of the 912 registered patients are under 18.

Joe Stevens, co-founder of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, the lone medical marijuana dispensary in the state, said none of his 124 clients is a minor.

State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) a sponsor of the medicinal marijuana law, said he wasn’t aware families were having trouble getting help, but he’s not surprised, either.

The first draft didn’t allow minors to participate at all. He succeeded in including children in a later draft, “but we had to keep making compromises.”
“It was the best law we could get under the circumstances,” he said.

Gusciora said he would ask O’Dowd to get involved “by putting together a team of family medical doctors that could address this.”

Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union), the Wilsons’ district representative, said she is willing to go a step farther.

“I am prepared to offer amendments to the law. But you and I both know the governor has been very opposed to the whole issue, so that is certainly a barrier,” Stender said. “But this is very compelling and heartbreaking. I told Mrs. Wilson as her assemblywoman I would do what I could to help her daughter.”



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Moving along in NJ

Tony NYC suburb welcomes NJ's first pot dispensary

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) - Across New Jersey, most communities approached about hosting one of the state's first legal medical marijuana dispensaries in out-of-the-way industrial zones have just said no, after outpourings of public opposition.

Montclair is a different story.

The cosmopolitan suburb a half-hour train ride from Manhattan has not only allowed Greenleaf Compassion Center - which last week received the state Health Department's first license to begin providing pot to patients - but also let the business set up in the middle of the town's main drag, and with no fuss.

For plenty of people in the way left-of-center town, the situation is a source of both pride and nonchalance.

"Why are the other communities so closed-minded as to not accept something like that?" said Peter Ryby, owner of Montclair Book Store, around the corner and down the block from the not-yet-opened alternative treatment center.

The town of 38,000 is sometimes called "the Upper West Side of New Jersey," referring to the famously upscale and liberal part of Manhattan, but it's also reminiscent of well-heeled bohemian spots such as Boulder, Colo., and Berkeley, Calif. There's an art museum, an international film festival, a Whole Foods, Thai restaurants, racks for commuters' bikes, and the headquarters of Garden State Equality, New Jersey's largest gay-rights group.

The population - 62 percent white, 27 percent black - is racially integrated and largely well-to-do. The median household income is $140,000.

And the idea of tolerance is part of the town's identity. In a scene in "Mad Men," a TV drama set in the 1960s, characters who went to Montclair for a party were stunned to see black and white revelers together - and marijuana being passed around.

Medical marijuana is a dicey business. In the eyes of the federal government, the medicine is still an illegal drug.

Some patients say marijuana can ease symptoms associated with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to migraines. It has been used to treat pain, nausea and lack of appetite in cancer and AIDS patients.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have flouted federal law and passed some sort of statute to allow patients access to the drug.

Each state has its own model for how the cannabis can be distributed. Some, like New Jersey - where advocates lament and some officials brag that the laws are the nation's strictest - are still in a startup phase.

So far, nine states - Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington - have dispensaries operating. Some states are still setting up distribution systems, and some use home-grown marijuana or other setups that do not include dispensaries.

Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for both the Philadelphia chapter of the pro-pot group NORML and the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, has visited dispensaries all over the country. He said most of the storefront operations look more like the one ready to open in Montclair than those proposed in industrial districts of New Jersey.

"The dispensaries are in the higher-end neighborhoods of California towns. There are people who are wealthy and who are poor who need to access medical marijuana," he said. "In New Jersey, it's wherever the dispensary can get their location."

New Jersey is not allowing registered patients to grow their own, and is limiting the potency, amount and variety of pot patients can buy. There's a relatively short list of conditions that qualify patients for the drug, and unlike some more lenient states, chronic pain and anxiety aren't on it.

Only New Jersey residents are eligible. New York, easily reachable by rail, does not allow medical marijuana, though lawmakers have proposed doing so.

Last year, the New Jersey Department of Health selected six nonprofit groups to pursue plans to grow and sell cannabis. The other five have struggled to find towns that will accept them, and none yet has permission to start growing marijuana, let alone sell it.

Groups are planning sites in Egg Harbor Township and Woodbridge. The other three groups have not announced their latest location plans.

Only Greenleaf has had a direct path. In its application, the group said it would meet patients in Montclair and grow its plants in another, undisclosed town. The group won't say where, citing security.

A year ago, Janice Talley, Montclair's director of planning and community development, found that the site on Bloomfield Avenue - next door to an abortion clinic and three buildings down from an adult video store that has pipes and vaporizers displayed for sale - would be a permissible for the new business under zoning laws.

Talley said she fielded complaints from some national anti-marijuana groups. "Nobody from the town called me and complained why we had that facility," she said. "It wasn't a huge issue here."

Behind the counter at Health Love and Soul Juice Bar and Grill a couple doors down from Greenleaf, Jarisi Anderson, said he's all for the new establishment. "It's a beautiful thing," he said.

His co-worker, Queen Townsend, fears the place could be a problem, but she believes she's in the minority. "The people I've met in Montclair - I don't want to stereotype - a lot of people here smoke weed," she said. "They don't have a problem with that."

The guys smoking tobacco down the street at Fume, a cigar shop, said they aren't troubled by legalizing marijuana - medicinal or not. "It's a waste to lock somebody up for a nickel bag or a dime bag," said shop owner Ralph Alberto.

But the dispensary could give the non-Montclair residents who go there to protest another cause.

Last week, Bernadette Grant stood across the street from the dispensary's neighboring abortion clinic with rosary beads in one hand and anti-abortion pamphlets in the other. She said she considers medical marijuana in the same category as abortion.

"This is not pro-life ," she said. "This is pro-death."

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New Jersey: Gets the Go-Ahead!

New Jersey's first medical-marijuana dispensary wins clearance to begin selling

By Jan Hefler
Inquirer Staff Writer

New Jersey's first medical marijuana dispensary has been cleared to begin selling the drug to patients who register with the state Department of Health.

After weeks of setbacks, Greenleaf Compassion Center received a permit Monday to open for business in a former drug paraphernalia shop in Montclair, Essex County. The nonprofit organization will be allowed to offer only strains with reduced potency.

Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd said Greenleaf had passed its final inspections, but could not say when the dispensary would open for business. Asked if it would do so before the end of the year, she said: "I would expect that."

In August, when patients could begin signing up, O'Dowd had anticipated that Greenleaf would start dispensing marijuana in September. On Monday, she would say only that Greenleaf would open when it was ready.

Greenleaf chief executive Joe Stevens and his partner, Julio Valentin Jr., did not return calls seeking comment.

In August, Stevens also said he expected an early-September launch, but later explained that Montclair officials had told him it would take a few weeks to issue a certificate of occupancy after the building was renovated. He also said he did not know the Health Department would require laboratory testing of the marijuana before granting final approval.

O'Dowd said photo ID cards would be mailed to the 190 patients who registered with the Health Department after their doctors certified that they had medical conditions that can be alleviated by marijuana. An additional 130 patients are still going through the registration.

More than a year ago five other nonprofit companies received preliminary approval to open dispensaries, but they have been stymied by the lengthy process.

New Jersey is one of 17 states to allow medical marijuana despite a federal ban on the use of the substance. Federal officials have told the states they will not enforce the ban if marijuana is dispensed only to sick people and if state regulations are obeyed.

O'Dowd said her agency wanted to make sure New Jersey's program could withstand legal challenges and had taken the time to put together regulations to protect the public as well as patients. One of the challenges in implementing the program, she said, is that "the federal government views this as an illegal product."

Some dispensary owners and patients believe the state has been overly cautious and restrictive, causing patients to needlessly suffer.

Compassionate Care Foundation, one of the two nonprofits that plan to open a dispensary in South Jersey, has had to push back its estimated opening date many times in the last year because of problems getting local and state approvals. Its principal officers have had to undergo more than eight months of background checks, including extensive scrutiny of their finances.

William J. Thomas, the dispensary's chief executive, said last month that his company might be forced to abandon its plans if the background checks are not finalized soon.

O'Dowd said Monday those checks had not been completed. Thomas did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment.

Patients also have been getting anxious, especially those who paid the state's $200 registration fee in August and were expecting to receive their medicine last month.

"As each day passes, there's someone new who is suffering and someone new at risk of being prosecuted for self-medicating" by purchasing marijuana on the black market, said Rich Caporusso, a Medford man who was among the first patients to register.

He has Crohn's disease. He said his doctor believes his pain can be controlled by marijuana without the side effects of stronger drugs. In April, he sued the Health Department, saying it was stalling and ignoring patients' pain.

The medical marijuana law that then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed in January 2010 was supposed to be implemented that summer. But when Gov. Christie took office a few weeks after the signing, he wanted a full review of its provisions and also assurances from the federal government that there would be no prosecution.

The Health Department also took months to craft stringent regulations to limit the drug to patients with terminal illnesses, multiple sclerosis, and other serious ailments.

Jay Lassiter, an AIDS/HIV patient from Cherry Hill, said the Health Department's announcement was "wonderful news." He said he hoped there were no more snags.

He said the news was bittersweet because it came too late for Diane Riportella, a friend and patient activist who had testified at hearings, urging the Health Department to stop the delays in implementing the program.

She died last month of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). "She should have been first in line," Lassiter said.

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Obama // Romney // Legalization?

Ads running to legalize marijuana in three states
By Carl Marcucci

In November, voters in Colorado, Washington and Oregon will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Although similar initiatives have failed in the past, this time the groups fighting to legalize pot are well-organized, professional and backed by high-dollar donors willing to outspend the competition, reports Raycom News Network.

In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) has produced several ads that say marijuana is healthier than alcohol. The campaign’s website points to medical studies that claim marijuana, unlike alcohol, has not been linked to cancer, brain damage, addiction or high healthcare costs.

CRMLA was given nearly $1.2 million from the Marijuana Policy Project, a DC-based lobbying group, as well as more than $800,000 by Peter Lewis, the founder and chairman of Progressive Insurance. Lewis has been a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization for several years and donated millions to legalization efforts around the country.

In an online video ad campaign, CRMLA has young adults explaining to their parents they prefer marijuana to alcohol. In one of the ads, titled Dear Mom, a 20-something woman tells her mother marijuana is “better for my body, I don’t get hung-over and honestly I feel safer around marijuana users.”

In Washington, rather than comparing marijuana to alcohol, New Approach Washington (NAW) is focusing on legalization, arguing outlawing cannabis does more harm than good, by wasting tax dollars on law enforcement while letting gangs control the money. She describes the possible benefits of legalization through saved law enforcement dollars and extra tax revenue.

The TV spot has a professional/executive looking woman, “I don’t like it personally, but it’s time for a conversation about legalizing marijuana. It’s a multi-million dollar industry in Washington state, and we get no benefit.”

These efforts appear to be working. In Washington, 50% of voters say marijuana should be legal while 38% say it should not, according to an Elway Research poll. And in Colorado, a Denver Post poll showed 51% of Coloradans were in favor of legalization, while 41% opposed it.

In Washington, the effort to legalize marijuana is being fought with a bankroll of between $4 and $5 million, according to the Raycom News Network story. NAW used those funds to put $1 million into television advertising during August, and hope to put triple that amount into the weeks preceding the November vote.

In total, groups in Colorado fighting to get marijuana legalized have a war chest of $2.5 million.

The campaigns are especially targeting women ages 30 to 55, whom tend to be less supportive of legalization and regulation than men.

The only visible group opposing the marijuana ballot, SMART Colorado, has been given less than $200,000 – most of it from Save Our Society, a Florida-based anti-drug group.

RBR-TVBR observation: Interesting that the Chairman of Progressive Insurance is donating so much money in this legalization effort. Perhaps legalizing it would create fewer accidents/injuries from police chases and save the insurance industry money? We doubt drivers with the stuff in their car would try to flee if it’s no more illegal than a pack of cigarettes. Who knows, but Progressive is a big corporation and Lewis seems to not be concerned about sticking his neck out on this.

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NJ starts rollin…..

NJ's Medical Marijuana Program Finally Takes Off

New Jersey approved a medical marijuana program more than two years ago but the program will finally begin to go into effect on Thursday.

That's the day when qualified patients can first register to receive an ID card for purchasing medical marijuana. That doesn't mark the start of any drug availability which is likely to come sometime next month.

Creating a patient registry is an important first step in allowing patients to use medical marijuana. But that doesn't mean people who participate in the system are safe from legal consequences.

New Jersey is the 17th state to permit medical marijuana but possession and use of the drug is still a violation of federal law, medical use or no.

The fact that a patient is allowed to purchase and use marijuana under state law does not protect them from federal prosecution, according to a Supreme Court case from 2005. Obama has said that it's not his priority to bust medical marijuana users, but that doesn't mean the government is ignoring dispensaries, reports LA Weekly.

The legal murkiness doesn't seem to be stopping New Jersey from going through with plans to allow medical marijuana. The state already has about 150 doctors registered to prescribe the drug and six nonprofit dispensaries with a license to sell.

Only one of those dispensaries currently has a site but it plans to begin selling soon, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Greenleaf Compassion Center of Montclair, New Jersey hopes to open its doors in September pending final permits. Until other dispensaries open it will be the sole provider of medical marijuana in the state.

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