Only Medical Marijuana Dispensary in New Jersey Closing Temporarily

By Susan K. Livio  |  Published in

Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair — New Jersey’s only operating medical marijuana dispensary — will be closed for about two weeks to build up a surplus of “quality medicine,” one of its co-founders, Julio Valentin, said today.

Patients were notified by phone this week that all appointments were cancelled until further notice. When the supply is built up, Greenleaf will call them back, Valentin told The Star-Ledger.

The shortage arose because about 10 percent of its crop this month was “inferior,” Valentin said. Other plants did not yield the quantity they had anticipated, he added.

The center also remains overwhelmed by the demand, as it has have since it opened in December, he added. They see about 150 patients on a regular basis, with a waiting list of several hundred people in the seven-county north Jersey area they were licensed to serve, Valentin said. The center was accepting patients from all corners of the state until March, when it began limiting new clients to north Jersey.

“We need another two weeks, perhaps,” Valentin said. “We are trying to build our supply up so we never have to close again. We are living harvest to harvest.”

The news came as a surprise to the state Health Department, which monitors Greenleaf, and alarmed at least one glaucoma patient who said she will be forced to risk arrest and buy marijuana on the street because the dispensary’s medicine has brought her relief.

Susan Sturner, a 53-year-old Lawrenceville registered medical marijuana patient with glaucoma, said Greenleaf’s supply has been spotty since March. She hasn’t been able to buy the maximum 2 ounces state law permits.

She admits she is “angry and scared.”

“I am buying from a patient underground. I have no choice. What am I supposed to do? If I read online for too many hours I cannot see,” Sturner said. “I am depending on a steady state supply to keep me out of the operating room and from going blind.”

State Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said Greenleaf had not notified the program director John O’Brien. When informed that Greenleaf was on hiatus in order to build up its depleted supply, Leusner replied via email: “One week ago, the Department notified Greenleaf of results of our testing of product so new product is in the pipeline.”

Joe Stevens, also a Greenleaf founder, replied: “We continue to be focused on doing everything we can to service as many patients as possible while working in a highly regulated industry. Patients remain Greenleaf’s number one priority.”

Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey, a research and advisory group, expressed disappointment on behalf of patients because the program has gotten off to such a slow start. The law creating the program was signed in January 2010.

“Two weeks might literally be a lifetime for some of the seriously ill patients and it will feel like a life time for many others who are suffering,” Scotti said. “New Jersey needs more Alternative Treatment Centers and if the ones that have been given licenses can’t get up and running the state should give the licenses to someone else or reopen the application process and let other groups open centers.”

Two years ago, the health department selected six nonprofit “alternative treatment centers” or dispensaries, to serve registered patients across the state. But only Greenleaf managed to pass the background checks, get the financing and meet the required state rules and local zoning and building codes.

Earlier this month, the health department issued growing permits to Compassionate Care Foundation, Inc. of Egg Harbor Township, which expects to begin accepting patients in early fall.

There are about 1,000 patients registered with the state program.

Gov. Chris Christie, asked about the status of the program during a town hall in Vernon today, said he didn’t think the demand for medical marijuana was significant. The governor also defended the slow roll out of the program, and its strict rules.

“It hasn’t been nearly as in demand as people said it would be. There are fewer people who signed up for the cards,” Christie said. “As long as you’re doing it and you put the right controls on it, it’s going fine here in New Jersey. That’s why we have the health department running this; this is a health program.”

Staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report

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