Only 2,342 people have signed up for medical cannabis in New Jersey, far fewer than were initially expected. But the problem likely isn’t due to a lack of interest it’s due to a lack of access.
As we’ve reported in the last few months, the program has been criticized for how slowly it came online and with how tight rules and regulations have prevented medical marijuana dispensaries from opening up and increasing access to patients.
Much of that, no doubt, comes from Gov. Chris Christie, who has stifled efforts to reform the program – including bills that could have helped sick children access high-CBD medications not yet available in New Jersey dispensaries due to stifling rules.
“We have a dysfunctional program, and I think it’s going to take some sort of ‘pot summit’ bringing together patients, doctors and legislators to really make this a success,” state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora told NJ.com this week. “We are hearing more and more anecdotal evidence that dispensaries are not sustaining themselves, the quality (of the marijuana) is not always there, and it’s difficult for doctors and patients to get into the program.”
Policy experts and cannabis advocates had predicted a program of about 10,000 patients by now based on disease and pain statistics for the state. But the actual figures pale in comparison.
Dispensaries – the only source of cannabis for patients under New Jersey law – are also suffering. State lawmakers based dictated the number of dispensaries and their size using those patient number predictions. Without the thousand of patients promised, the dispensaries are looking at folding.
Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor, for example, was opened on a prediction of 2,000 patients. They struggle to get more than 600, though. The dispensary’s former chief operating officer, Bill Thomas, had to quit because he didn’t know when he could ever beging pulling in any salary.
Thomas said that the governor and lawmakers who buy into pot paranoia are to blame.
“From a business standpoint and from a patient standpoint, it’s not successful. The governor says why change anything if (patients) haven’t shown up. Is there really no demand, or is it so hard to get access that it is easier to buy it from the high school kid down the street? It’s not like the people don’t get it another way.”
Another issue is that the state requires recommending doctors to sign up with the state and have their names published online. That has created a chilling effect due to cannabis remaining federally illegal.
Others say that the program is failing due to investors and dispensary owners overestimating the market. Larry Downs with the Medical Society of New Jersey said that dispensary business is not a concern of medical doctors.
“If doctors believe it is a legitimate therapy, being published on a website is not going to stop them,” Downs told NJ.com. “A lot of doctors do not believe it is a good therapy and that it does not meet standards of efficacy and safety.”