Local doctors cleared to prescribe medical marijuana
Cris Jagar, a lifelong Rutherford resident and a psychiatrist at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, sent in an application last year to be a qualified physician of the New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Program for an array of reasons. Stationed in the emergency room at the hospital and working closely with doctors of most disciplines there, he sees just about every patient imaginable: drug addicts, cancer patients, those afflicted with AIDS and some with chronic pain so bad, any treatment they undergo just doesn’t seem to work.
“As a psychiatrist, I participate in a lot of the palliative care with patients. My thinking was I was hoping to provide another treatment option for the terminally ill and patients with debilitating illnesses,” said Jagar. “A lot of patients already get it [marijuana] illegally for pain and weight loss. I work in Elizabeth; if they want it, they can get it. So that was my thinking. I may be able to do more for the patients in the hospital and for outpatients. If they want marijuana now, it’s widely available, but it’s better to have it monitored by professionals. It’s a better treatment for a person to not have to go through illegal channels to get it.”
Jagar is among four local doctors who have been approved by the state to prescribe medical marijuana, but none of the companies that were approved to dispense the marijuana when the law was passed more than two years ago have yet been permitted to do so. Most still do not have a facility to operate out of as the municipalities that they have been approved to operate in have had their zoning and planning boards turn down applications. The only one with a home, which is in Montclair, was given a permit last week to begin growing marijuana, but has not yet been permitted to sell it.
The law, which was signed in January 2010, allows for six alternative treatment centers (ATCs) across the state, two in each of the three districts (north, central and south) to dispense marijuana to qualified patients who have a prescription from a doctor who is in the program’s physician registry. The patients themselves must too hold an identification card from the program. A patient would be eligible to receive a maximum of two ounces of marijuana each month with a level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, not exceeding 10 percent.
Among the debilitating medical conditions that would qualify a patient to receive marijuana are amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy or inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease. Terminal illness also qualifies if a physician determines the patient has less than 12 months to live. Conditions that qualify if they are resistant to conventional medical therapies are seizure disorders including epilepsy, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity; or glaucoma. Cancer, AIDS and HIV patients would qualify if severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting, or wasting syndrome results from the condition or treatment of the condition.
Greenleaf Compassion Center, the only ATC to gain zoning approval from Montclair, was issued a permit last week to begin growing marijuana, which takes between three and four months, according to New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd. O’Dowd said she anticipates Greenleaf receiving a dispensary permit when the marijuana is ready. Licensing of the other approved companies can’t take place until they have zoning approvals from the towns they were approved for. Secaucus is the other town in the northern district where a company is trying to find a home.
“The patients we work with and represent are ecstatic,” said Roseanne Scotti, the New Jersey state director of Drug Policy Alliance, a group that helped lead the campaign to pass the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. “They have waited so long for safe and legal access to medical marijuana and this gives them hope that that wait is coming to an end and relief is in sight.”
According to the NJDHSS, the physician registry opened on October 2010 and will continue to allow for new physician enrollment beyond what doctors have been allowed to the registry already. The department made available an electronic registry last week. A patient registry is in the final stages of development. Once that registry opens, which is expected in several weeks, according to the NJDHSS, physicians will go online and enter the name, address, date of birth and qualifying condition of a patient, creating a secure patient identification number that the patient can use to register electronically. The patient will be required to then register and submit a photo by mail to the state in order to obtain an identification card from the program.
“New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program is based on a medical-model which requires physicians and qualified patients to have an ongoing relationship,” said Dr. Arturo Brito, the state’s deputy commissioner for public health services. “Physicians will have to monitor patients on medicinal marijuana as part of managing their medical condition.”
Three Lyndhurst doctors, all operating out of the same practice on Rutherford Avenue, joined Jagar in making the roster of the medical marijuana physician registry. The four local physicians make up a total of over 100 statewide and 26 in Bergen County that gained approval. From Lyndhurst, the doctors are Ann Kim, Sung-Won Lee and Byong Park, all listed as physicians affiliated with United Medical PC.
Jagar said he isn’t surprised that more doctors haven’t signed onto the qualified physicians registry because of the perception that they may some how be breaking the law by prescribing the drug as medical marijuana laws are not instituted federally. He said he believes it’s also the reason many patients haven’t inquired about it.