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.