EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — South Jersey’s first medical marijuana clinic opens today, becoming the second center in the state to legally sell marijuana to qualified patients.
Compassionate Care Foundation CEO Bill Thomas said the appointment book is already full through November.
“We have over 200 appointments booked so far,” with 600 patients registered with them, he said Friday. He estimated about half of the patients would be coming from north of Interstate 195.
The center dedicated the facility earlier this month to Diane Riportella, an Egg Harbor Township woman who died in 2012 at the age of 56, after years of suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In her final years, she traveled frequently to Trenton to lobby lawmakers on the benefits of medical marijuana.
The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010 for patients with debilitating conditions including terminal cancer, mutiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy.
State regulations require patients to be approved by qualified doctors. Once registered, one of the legal alternative treatment centers will contact the patient to make an appointment. No walk-ins are allowed.
More than 1,300 patients and more than 240 doctors have so far enrolled in the state program. But a slow rollout has frustrated patients with limited access, and the first alternative treatment center in Montclair, Essex County, has had problems with insufficient supply. A variety of problems also have meant that the Egg Harbor Township facility is opening nearly a year later than founders initially anticipated.
But this bottleneck may ease as more centers open.
One alternative treatment center is expected to open in mid-November in Woodbridge Township, Middlesex County, and the state Department of Health is in licensing talks with three other facilities.
Thomas said he thought the Woodbridge clinic would likely ease the crush at Egg Harbor Township’s center, and encouraged North Jersey residents to go there when it opens. He did not want terminally ill and debilitated people having to travel for hours.
“We’re not in competition,” he said. “We’re a nonprofit. We’re just trying to get medicine to people.”
Thomas was confident the center would have enough supply to meet patients’ needs. It has more than 1,000 ounces on hand, and expects to harvest 300 to 400 ounces more in the coming weeks.
The center grows everything inside its secure facility in the Offshore Commercial Park near the intersection of the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway. The center is a former warehouse for Trump casinos.
A $350,000 grant from the state Economic Development Authority has helped expand capacity. The center should eventually be harvesting 1,000 plants every two weeks, Thomas said, allowing it to serve 2,000 patients a month.
Federal officials have indicated they would not challenge state medical marijuana laws, even though they contradict federal law.
“As long as we follow the state rules, I think we are safe,” Thomas said. “They’re worried about us being in the illegal drug business and we are not in the illegal drug business as far as the state is concerned.”
Contact Derek Harper:
@dnharper on Twitter