EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - A local medicinal marijuana facility expects to open for business Sept. 9, a state official said Monday, saving area residents from a drive to Essex County.

Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. expects to see about 500 customers a month when it is fully operational, said Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health. The agency regulates the state's medicinal marijuana clinics and the 885 registered medicinal marijuana users.

A local medicinal marijuana supporter said he was optimistic the center would open in September, but Paul Riportella, 44, of Egg Harbor Township, was disappointed the opening date keeps getting pushed back.

"The last I heard, it was supposed to be in July, and now it September," he said. "It's just ridiculous."

His wife, Diane Riportella, previously testified in Trenton in support of the proposal, saying she used marijuana to blunt the effects of her amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease that was first diagnosed in 2007. She died in September at age 56.

Because of her efforts, Paul Riportella said, the facility plans to honor her with a plaque inside the facility. He said, "This is what she strived for."

Calls to Compassionate Care Foundation Inc. were directed to Newtown, Pa., resident William Thomas, the company president, who could not be reached.

The Department of Health has been in regular contact with Compassionate Care as it has sought to develop an indoor marijuana-growing facility in a former Trump warehouse near the intersection of the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway, Leusner said.

This has included working with the company over zoning and security issues, reviewing cultivation blueprints and helping develop the security system.

The center will open after a comprehensive inspection that is expected to take place in late August or early September.

When operational, she said, regulators in Trenton would be able to remotely watch the center around the clock through surveillance cameras. Leusner said the state also plans to do announced and unannounced inspections, as well as checking on the compliance with regulations four times a year.

State lawmakers created New Jersey's medicinal marijuana program in January 2010. But critics have accused the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, with dragging its feet on creating and implementing the regulations needed to operate the program.

A state licensing program started issuing cards for registered clients last fall. On Dec. 6, the Greenleaf Compassion Center opened in Montclair, Essex County, as New Jersey's first medicinal marijuana dispensary.

Leusner said a similar facility is on track to open in Woodbridge Township, Middlesex County, in early September. The state law permits up to six centers throughout the state, although the locations have not been disclosed.

Last year, Compassionate Care said it planned to grow three types of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis, in a mineral-rich nutrient solution under high-intensity growth lights. As many as 16,000 plants would be monitored and cared for at the Egg Harbor Township facility, with strict access restrictions.

At the time, Thomas said the marijuana would be available as ground-up flakes, a lozenge or lotion to the patient, although flakes would be recommended.

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