Posts Tagged ‘New Jersey’
Legislative Chambers Move Measures To Decriminalize Marijuana In Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey
y Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy DirectorMarch 22, 2013
Legislative chambers in four states — Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey — have passed measures to reclassify minor marijuana offenses as non-criminal violations, punishable by a fine only — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.
In Hawaii, Senate lawmakers this month unanimously passed Senate Bill 472, which reclassifies marijuana possession offenses from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction. On Thursday, March 14, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a revised version of this proposal (SB 472, HD1). This revised version caps fine-only penalties at no more than $100 for violations by those age 18 or older involving 20 grams or less of cannabis. Senate Bill 472 now before the House Finance Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. If passed by the House Finance Committee, the measure would still need to be voted by the full House and then it would return to the Senate before going to the Governor’s desk. You can read NORML’s testimony in support of this measure here. Hawaii voters who wish to learn more about this effort can visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here or visit the ACLU of Hawaii here.
Maryland lawmakers this week passed Senate Bill 297 by a vote of 30 to 16. The bill now goes before House lawmakers for further consideration. This is the first time in recent memory that a chamber of the Maryland legislature has voted to significantly reduce penalties for the non-medical use of cannabis. Presently, the possession of ten grams of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor,publishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Senate Bill 297 makes minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Members of the House Judiciary Committee will hear SB 297 on Thursday, March 28, at 1pm. NORML will be testifying at this hearing. Maryland residents are urged to get involved in supporting SB 297 by clicking here.
Yesterday, New Hampshire House members voted 214 to 115 in favor of amended legislation, House Bill 621, that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession offenses. Under present law, the possession of any amount of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to one-year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This proposal seeks to make minor marijuana offenses (up to one-quarter of one ounce) a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. The vote marks the fourth time in five years that House lawmakers have approved decriminalizing cannabis. More than 50 additional House lawmakers approved the measure this year as opposed to last year. Nevertheless, this measure is anticipated to face resistance in the Senate as well as from newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan. If you reside in New Hampshire, you can take action in support of HB 621 here.
Assembly Bill 1465, which reduces penalties for the adult possession of up to 15 grams or less of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation was approved last year by the New Jersey Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Separate Senate Legislation, Senate Bill 1977, to decriminalize up to 50 grams of marijuana also remains pending. Under present state law, the possessing of up to 50 grams marijuana is punishable by up to 6 months incarceration, a $1,000 fine, and a criminal record. According to survey data compiled in 2011 by Rutgers University, a majority of New Jersey voters support reforming the state’s criminal marijuana laws. Pollsters found that 6 out of 10 voters favored removing criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders and replacing them with the imposition of a civil fine. Just over half thought there should be no penalties at all. More information about these measures is available here.
To date, fifteen states have reduced marijuana possession to a fine-only offense. In nine of these states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island (beginning April 1, 2013) — the law defines the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults as a civil, non-criminal offense. Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana, while Colorado and Washington recently imposed separate legislation legalizing the private possession of marijuana.
Several additional states, including Missouri and Vermont, are considering similar decriminalization measures. Nearly a dozen states are also considering legislation to legalize the adult consumption of marijuana and regulate its retail production and sale. A summary of state-by-state pending marijuana law reform measures is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
TRENTON, NJ — A bill that would protect medical marijuana patients from being denied medical care, including organ transplants, was approved Monday by New Jersey’s Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
The bill, Senate Bill 1220, requires that any registered, qualifying patient’s authorized use of medical marijuana is to be considered by medical providers equivalent to the use of any other prescribed medication, rather than an illicit substance.
The bill is designed to ensure that a patient’s use of medical marijuana would not prohibit them from receiving organ transplants.
Medical marijuana patients have been denied organ transplants at hospitals in other states, most notably at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“We are hearing of cases in other states of sick and dying patients being kicked off organ transplant waiting lists for their legal use of medical marijuana,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health Committee and primary sponsor of the bill. “This practice is unconscionable as the patients have followed their doctors’ orders and have taken a legal medication to reduce the pain and suffering associated with their illness. Transplant centers should not be able to discriminate against people for using this prescription pain killer.”
“Medical marijuana is a compassionate and humane way to manage pain and provide relief from side effects that often accompany chronic and terminal ailments,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union and Middlesex, who co-sponsored the legislation. “Our medical marijuana law is already the most restrictive in the nation with built in protections to ensure that people are using the prescribed drug as a treatment for prolonged and chronic medical conditions rather than for recreational use. The thought that someone would be denied treatment that could help cure their condition or greatly reduce their suffering because of their legal use of this prescribed drug is abhorrent.”
The bill would supplement the “Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” which legalized medical marijuana for New Jersey residents suffering from chronic and terminal diseases in 2010.
The bill now heads to floor vote in the Senate.
New Jersey Senate Health Committee to Vote Monday on New Legislation that Would Help Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths
Legislation Expands Access to Life-Saving Overdose Antidote, Naloxone;
Overdose Is the Leading Cause of Accidental Death in New Jersey
Treatment Providers, Public Health Advocates and Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones to Overdose Voice Support
Trenton—This Monday, January 14th, the New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee will consider the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act (S2082), which expands access to the life-saving medication, naloxone. The hearing will be held on Monday, January 14th at 1:00 p.m. in Committee Room 1 on the first floor of the State House Annex.
Naloxone is a prescription medication that blocks and reverses the effects of opioid drugs such as heroin and OxyContin. It is already standard medical practice for emergency personnel to administer when summoned to the scene of an overdose. Successfully implemented naloxone programs in other states demonstrate that laypeople, including family members and peers, can be easily trained in administration. A recent survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 1996-2010, 50 naloxone programs nation-wide had provided training and distributed the medication to more than 53,000 people and received reports of more than 10,000 overdose reversals. No such programs exist in New Jersey. This legislation is designed to encourage their establishment.
Because naloxone is available only by prescription, it is not widely accessible to those most often in a position to help an overdose victim. S2082 seeks to expand access by providing protection from civil and criminal liability to medical professionals who prescribe the drug and laypeople who administer it.
Overdose is a major public health problem and the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. These deaths are entirely preventable. The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to intervene and safe a life.
Advocates are urging committee members to vote yes on this critically important bill. “We must have a comprehensive strategy to reduce the huge number of tragic and preventable overdose deaths in New Jersey, says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance. “ Expanded access to naloxone is a key component in that strategy. This bill will save lives and should be acted on by the legislature with all possible speed. Lives hang in the balance.”
Senator Joseph Vitale, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, says “Drug overdose continues to be the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. Each year it surpasses the number of deaths caused by automobile accidents and guns. Expanding access to naloxone will allow this medication to reach its full public health potential and will be an important part of New Jersey’s comprehensive efforts to address drug abuse.”
Eight states, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia, have already passed laws that explicitly provide protection from civil and/or criminal liability for people who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose.
Senate Bill 2082 is sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), Senator Christopher Bateman (R-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset), Senator Richard Codey (D-Essex and Morris), Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland), and Senator Anthony R. Bucco (R-Morris and Somerset).
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was 26 years old. “Sal was a beautiful soul who unfortunately struggled with addiction. If the people he was using with on the night he died had access to naloxone, he might still be alive today. Instead, my son was left alone to die. It’s extremely important to have policies like this one in place, so that other families are spared the grief that mine has endured.”
The Assembly companion, A3095, is sponsored by Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer and Middlesex), Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington and Camden), Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex and Passaic), Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex and Somerset), Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen and Hudson), Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen and Passaic), Assemblyman Timothy Eustace (D-Bergen and Passaic), and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex and Morris).
The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act is supported by a long list of public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—NJ, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the National Association of Social Workers—New Jersey, Integrity House, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Well of Hope Drop-in Center, the Atlantic City Syringe Access Program, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, Camden Area Health Education Center, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative, the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, Paterson Counseling Center, the ACLU of New Jersey, COPE Center, Buddies of New Jersey, Inc., the Hepatitis C Association, Parent to Parent, Daytop Village of New Jersey, the Center for Family Services, the New Jersey Woman and AIDS Network and American Habitare and Counseling, Inc.
Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243
By: Susan K. Livio
MONTCLAIR — New Jersey’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens Thursday after years of battles and bureaucratic delays in enacting a controversial law signed on former Gov. Jon Corzine’s last day in office.
The founders of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair said today they expected to make the first legally sanctioned sale of pot late this morning — with only patients who have recommended by their doctor, registered with the state Health Department and scheduled for an appointment allowed to get through the door.
“We are extremely excited to serve the patients of New Jersey and humbled the state gave us a permit to let us do this,” said Joe Stevens, board member and Greenleaf co-founder.
Advocates said the dispensary’s opening — first reported today by The Star-Ledger on nj.com, its online home — will begin to give patients relief traditional medicine hasn’t provided.
Roseanne Scotti, director of New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, one of the advocacy groups that helped get the law passed, called the announcement “an incredible and historic moment for some of the most seriously ill patients” in New Jersey.
About 20 of the 338 registered patients have been scheduled to meet with Greenleaf on Thursday. Patients are being called in the order the state issued their identification cards.
Thursday’s opening will come after fights between Gov. Chris Christie, who said the law he inherited was too lax, and advocates who said he was taking too long to bring relief to patients in pain.
As Christie and lawmakers wrestled over the program’s rules, the health department — creating the program from scratch — encountered problems with screening potential dispensary operators.
The governor repeatedly stressed New Jersey would not resemble the “de facto legalization” of pot in Colorado and California, and he put John O’Brien, a retired State Police lieutenant, in charge. New Jersey’s medical marijuana law is the nation’s toughest.
Julio Valentin, a board member and one of the center’s original founders, said patients and the community should have faith in the program’s integrity. The Bloomfield Avenue storefront is secure, and the marijuana has been tested and deemed free of pesticides, mold and fungus. “People will have a place that is safe and secure,” Valentin said. “They won’t have to hide in the shadows anymore.”
Patients are limited to buying no more than 2 ounces of pot a month, but their physicians may recommend less. Initially, Greenleaf plans to sell no more than a half-ounce so the supply it has grown at an undisclosed indoor facility can stretch to every registered patient, board members said.
“We are asking for their cooperation and patience right now. Going forward, those limitations will be lifted,” said Parita Patel, an attorney and board member.
Patients must pay cash, Stevens said. Under program rules that prohibit advertising, Greenleaf said it could not disclose its prices. Patients who can verify they are low-income will be eligible for a discount, said Jordan Matthews, an attorney and board member.
Greenleaf staff will discuss patients’ medical history, and recommend how a particular strain might help alleviate symptoms, said Sanjeev Patel, a board member and hotel developer. “Everybody’s body reacts a different way,” he said.
State Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd said program officials will be at the center Thursday to monitor the operation.
“The department has worked closely with Greenleaf to ensure the integrity of the program,” O’Dowd said. We are “gratified that qualified patients will have access to medicinal marijuana in an appropriate setting.”
Marta Portuguez of Roselle Park called Thursday’s opening “a wonderful thing,” and said she eagerly awaits her turn to legally use pot for several chronic illnesses that cause severe pain and frequent muscle spasms. Portuguez said she uses marijuana to lessen the pain and reduce the intensity of the spasms. “I do just enough to stop what is driving me insane,” she said.
Greenleaf is one of six approved nonprofit “alternative treatment centers,” but the others have had difficulty finding a place to open or passing the state’s review process.
“The program will only be successful if all patients throughout our state have reasonable access to this treatment,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), who co-sponsored the law.
Jan Hefler, Inquirer Staff Writer
A lawmaker who was influential in getting New Jersey’s medical marijuana law passed said he was stunned by the Christie administration’s announcement last week that the drug would be taxed.
State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), who spent five years gathering support for the bill before it was enacted in 2010, said the Treasury Department’s rationale was jarring, given the history of the bill.
Because the law was silent on whether the 7 percent sales tax could be applied, treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt said the department had to find out the “legislators’ intent” when they drafted it.
“The sponsors agree it was their intention to tax the sale of medicinal marijuana,” he said.
But four of the five primary sponsors – including Gusciora – said they were never consulted. They also said in interviews they never expected the drug to be taxed nor did they believe it should be.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications are exempt from the sales tax.
“If you use medical marijuana as a pharmaceutical, then you shouldn’t be taxed for it. . . . You don’t punish a person who’s terminally ill and needs the drug,” Gusciora said.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), another primary sponsor, has a different recollection.
He said that before the law was signed, there were “very brief discussions” about the potentially substantial revenue the state could reap by taxing the drug. He also said he had a “casual conversation” with the governor’s counsel before the administration announced its decision to impose a tax.
Because the law he helped draft did not specifically grant marijuana a tax exemption, it would be subject to a sales tax, Scutari said.
For many of the 318 registered medical marijuana patients, the tax is one more sign of the administration’s insensitivity to their plight. The law was enacted in January 2010, but the launch of the program has been delayed numerous times.
So far, no dispensary has opened.
“This is an insult to patients, after they have waited so long,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, an advocate for the patients. “It’s clearly unfair. . . . If you want money from marijuana, you need to legalize it for recreational purposes, not tax people who are sick.”
Gusciora recalled that when he first proposed a bill in 2004, he included a provision for a sales tax. He hoped the prospect of new revenue would sway legislators who otherwise were lukewarm to legalizing medical marijuana.
“I was immediately shot down,” he said. Representatives from both parties told him taxing it would be a mistake because it could create concern in the state’s strong pharmaceutical industry that its drugs might be taxed next.
Gusciora and Scutari were the sponsors of the earliest version of the medical marijuana bill, in 2005. Winning support was difficult; later, three others signed on as primary sponsors.
Scutari said legislators had engaged in “very brief discussions” about the potential revenue a tax on marijuana could bring. In the long term, he said, that amount could be significant.
But none of the other primary sponsors remembered any discussion of the tax before the bill was passed, and they said the administration didn’t ask them what their intent was.
Asked about that, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said:
“It’s been made clear to us by the sponsors that they intended that.” He referred to Scutari and Declan O’Scanlon (R., Monmouth), a medical-marijuana advocate who was not among the five primary sponsors or the 15 cosponsors, as supporters of the tax.
The other primary sponsors were Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic), Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R., Morris), and former Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss (D., Bergen).
“I don’t recall any discussions about it,” Whelan said of the tax issue. “I think the assumption was that this is medicine, and it would be treated as medicine. . . . You can’t get it without a doctor’s recommendation, and have to go to a well-controlled dispensary.”
Chris Goldstein smoked his first joint in 1994 and has been working to legalize marijuana ever since. He serves on the Board of Directors at PhillyNORML and has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. This is his second Philly420 column for Philly.com.
The Garden State is abuzz with reports of a new taxable cash crop: medical marijuana.
The Christie administration this week announced that medical marijuana will be taxed at 7 percent, just like any other consumer product.
There’s only one location right now where you might be able to pay that tax. And that’s at a dispensary in Montclair.
A non-profit called Greenleaf Compassion LLC has the monopoly as the state’s only fully approved Alternative Treatment Center.
Although it’s been three years since then-Gov. Corzine signed the bill legalizing marijuana for medical use, Greenleaf’s Montclair dispensary, which was given the OK in October to open for business, has yet to open its doors.
There will be no legal way around the tax, even though there was nothing about a tax in the original law. And conveniently for the state, patients eligible to consume medicinal marijuana are not allowed to grow their own.
Ken Wolski, a registered nurse and the executive director at The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) emailed me about the issue yesterday.
“Neither the N.J. compassionate use law nor the regulations to enact the law call for such a tax,” said Wolski. “In fact, the New Jersey Division of Taxation’s Technical Bulletin issued 2/16/10 clearly notes that, ‘Effective October 1, 2005, all drugs for human use, including prescribed drugs and over-the-counter drugs are exempt from sales and use tax.’”
The state doesn’t tax aspirin or antibiotics.
“Prescription drugs are not subject to sales tax in New Jersey,” Wolski said, “and neither should medical marijuana be subject to this tax.”
The Inquirer’s Jan Hefler has been following some of the N.J. residents who are still waiting for Greenleaf to actually sell them some cannabis.
“The story keeps changing,” said Sandra Hacker, a Holland Township, Hunterdon County, resident. “I’m now having serious doubts. I’m in a quandary, at a loss for words. I suffer every day with multiple sclerosis and I am thoroughly disgusted.”
The tax issue revealed a bigger conflict. The owners at Greenleaf independently sent a query requesting clarification to the N.J. Treasury. The NJ Department of Health, Medicinal Marijuana Program was expecting the Greenleaf storefront to open earlier this month. Why hasn’t it opened? Greenleaf isn’t saying. They’ve cut off communication with registered patients.
The reality is that most New Jersey residents with HIV, cancer or other qualifying conditions are not registered for medical pot and may already be accessing the underground marijuana market, where, of course, there is no sales tax but there is a massive mark-up.
The street price for marijuana does not reflect the price of production – it is relatively cheap to grow. But the $350-$550 per ounce for cannabis underground is the price of its status as an illegal substance.
Greenleaf has not revealed to patients or the public just how much they will charge for their product. This is, IF they ever sell some.
New Jersey is running the most limited medical marijuana program in the country. Gov. Christie personally went to the mat for several unique restrictions: the active ingredient, THC, must remain under 10 percent, dispensaries may only grow three strains of cannabis, and patients can only buy two ounces per month.
The Newark Star-Ledger Editorial Board pointed out yesterday “lawmakers never even debated a [tax] exemption for marijuana.”
In arguing against a state marijuana tax they concluded: “Need the cash? Decriminalize marijuana, including recreational smoking. Then regulate it and tax the bejeepers out of it.
“But it is just not right to tax a sick person’s medicine.”
Right now decriminalizing marijuana is more meaningful to the tens of thousands of N.J. residents who actually need cannabis for medicine. A decrim bill did pass the N.J. Assembly this summer 41-30 with strong bi-partisan support. A companion bill is currently active in the state senate. Gov. Christie has promised to veto it.
There are almost 20,000 marijuana possession arrests in New Jersey each year. Many of the patients I know with Crohn’s disease, HIV, MS or other conditions have been busted multiple times for small amounts of pot. Penalties even worse for the patients who are caught growing.
Like most of steps in the almost three-year-long struggle to legalize the sale of medical marijuana to chronically and seriously ill patients, the final one has turned into a stumble.
Joe Stevens, a co-founder of the Greenlead Compassion Center, the first licensed alternative treatment site, says the only obstacle in the way of opening its doors in Montclair is the state’s decision on whether to impose a sales tax.
But State Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd insists that isn’t the case.
“As far as the state is concerned, there are no issues preventing Greenleaf from opening,” Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for O’Dowd, said Thursday.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), one of the law’s prime sponsors, said it was always his intention for the sale of medical marijuana to be subject to the state’s 7 percent sales tax even though there’s no mention of it in the legislation.
“I think they have to have an answer,” Scutari said.
O’Dowd said last Friday the department notified Greenleaf its marijuana had passed a battery of tests, and that some nonessential lab work would probably be completed the following week.
“We are actively working to establish an opening date,” Stevens said Thursday.
But first, he said, a sales tax was the “one outstanding, important issue.”
He said the Health Department “has been communicating with the Treasury Department to get a definitive answer, but we must have this answer before we can begin dispensing.”
Leusner disagreed, however.
“A review of the tax issue is not a barrier to opening,” she said. “Its resolution at a later date would not result in any penalty for Greenleaf.”
The Treasury Department, which would collect the tax, did not respond to numerous requests for comment Thursday.
The program has been the source of friction between the Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie, who described the law as too permissive, and advocates have criticized the administration for moving too slowly.
The Christie administration issued a permit to Greenleaf — one of five planned dispensaries — on Oct. 18 to begin selling the marijuana to pre-approved patients. But first the substance had to pass Health Department’s tests on everything from pesticides to a requirement that the potency level of the THC — the active hallucinogenic chemical — not exceed 10 percent.
As of Wednesday, 285 patients were enrolled, according to John O’Brien, a retired state trooper who is overseeing the program.
Stevens said Greenleaf would notify patients to make an appointment when the center was ready to open “as soon as the tax issue is resolved.”
“We don’t want to schedule appointments and then have to postpone in the event this issue isn’t settled,” he said.
Of the 18 other states, and the District of Columbia, that have approved medical marijuana sales, not all have programs up and running or sales tax plans in place. A study by the state Treasury Department in Vermont — which has four dispensaries — reported California was on track to collect at least $58 million in sales tax in 2012, and that Colorado collected $5 million last year.
O’Dowd said that when Greenleaf opens its doors, patients will be assured the drug they buy is free from mold, fungus, pesticides.
She said the Health Department also created a testing protocol that measured the potency of the eight active ingredients, called cannabinoids.
“This gives us, in our opinion, the most effective data out there … that will allow for scientific research, and decision-making by physicians and patients,” she said.
So far, she said, only 35 percent of the 216 doctors registered with the program have referred patients.
“I think they would like to provide palliative options to their patients, but they are concerned about what is in the product,” she said. “I think this type of information will provide a level of comfort.”
By GEOFF MULVIHILL
MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Across New Jersey, most communities approached about hosting one of the state’s first legal medical marijuana dispensaries in out-of-the-way industrial zones have just said no, after outpourings of public opposition.
Montclair is a different story.
The cosmopolitan suburb a half-hour train ride from Manhattan has not only allowed Greenleaf Compassion Center – which last week received the state Health Department’s first license to begin providing pot to patients – but also let the business set up in the middle of the town’s main drag, and with no fuss.
For plenty of people in the way left-of-center town, the situation is a source of both pride and nonchalance.
“Why are the other communities so closed-minded as to not accept something like that?” said Peter Ryby, owner of Montclair Book Store, around the corner and down the block from the not-yet-opened alternative treatment center.
The town of 38,000 is sometimes called “the Upper West Side of New Jersey,” referring to the famously upscale and liberal part of Manhattan, but it’s also reminiscent of well-heeled bohemian spots such as Boulder, Colo., and Berkeley, Calif. There’s an art museum, an international film festival, a Whole Foods, Thai restaurants, racks for commuters’ bikes, and the headquarters of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest gay-rights group.
The population – 62 percent white, 27 percent black – is racially integrated and largely well-to-do. The median household income is $140,000.
And the idea of tolerance is part of the town’s identity. In a scene in “Mad Men,” a TV drama set in the 1960s, characters who went to Montclair for a party were stunned to see black and white revelers together – and marijuana being passed around.
Medical marijuana is a dicey business. In the eyes of the federal government, the medicine is still an illegal drug.
Some patients say marijuana can ease symptoms associated with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to migraines. It has been used to treat pain, nausea and lack of appetite in cancer and AIDS patients.
Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have flouted federal law and passed some sort of statute to allow patients access to the drug.
Each state has its own model for how the cannabis can be distributed. Some, like New Jersey – where advocates lament and some officials brag that the laws are the nation’s strictest – are still in a startup phase.
So far, nine states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington – have dispensaries operating. Some states are still setting up distribution systems, and some use home-grown marijuana or other setups that do not include dispensaries.
Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for both the Philadelphia chapter of the pro-pot group NORML and the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, has visited dispensaries all over the country. He said most of the storefront operations look more like the one ready to open in Montclair than those proposed in industrial districts of New Jersey.
“The dispensaries are in the higher-end neighborhoods of California towns. There are people who are wealthy and who are poor who need to access medical marijuana,” he said. “In New Jersey, it’s wherever the dispensary can get their location.”
New Jersey is not allowing registered patients to grow their own, and is limiting the potency, amount and variety of pot patients can buy. There’s a relatively short list of conditions that qualify patients for the drug, and unlike some more lenient states, chronic pain and anxiety aren’t on it.
Only New Jersey residents are eligible. New York, easily reachable by rail, does not allow medical marijuana, though lawmakers have proposed doing so.
Last year, the New Jersey Department of Health selected six nonprofit groups to pursue plans to grow and sell cannabis. The other five have struggled to find towns that will accept them, and none yet has permission to start growing marijuana, let alone sell it.
Groups are planning sites in Egg Harbor Township and Woodbridge. The other three groups have not announced their latest location plans.
Only Greenleaf has had a direct path. In its application, the group said it would meet patients in Montclair and grow its plants in another, undisclosed town. The group won’t say where, citing security.
A year ago, Janice Talley, Montclair’s director of planning and community development, found that the site on Bloomfield Avenue – next door to an abortion clinic and three buildings down from an adult video store that has pipes and vaporizers displayed for sale – would be a permissible for the new business under zoning laws.
Talley said she fielded complaints from some national anti-marijuana groups. “Nobody from the town called me and complained why we had that facility,” she said. “It wasn’t a huge issue here.”
Behind the counter at Health Love and Soul Juice Bar and Grill a couple doors down from Greenleaf, Jarisi Anderson, said he’s all for the new establishment. “It’s a beautiful thing,” he said.
His co-worker, Queen Townsend, fears the place could be a problem, but she believes she’s in the minority. “The people I’ve met in Montclair – I don’t want to stereotype – a lot of people here smoke weed,” she said. “They don’t have a problem with that.”
The guys smoking tobacco down the street at Fume, a cigar shop, said they aren’t troubled by legalizing marijuana – medicinal or not. “It’s a waste to lock somebody up for a nickel bag or a dime bag,” said shop owner Ralph Alberto.
But the dispensary could give the non-Montclair residents who go there to protest another cause.
Last week, Bernadette Grant stood across the street from the dispensary’s neighboring abortion clinic with rosary beads in one hand and anti-abortion pamphlets in the other. She said she considers medical marijuana in the same category as abortion.
“This is not pro-life ,” she said. “This is pro-death.”
MOUNT HOLLY — Although a jury acquitted Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion of drug distribution on Thursday, the medical marijuana activist could still spend time behind bars for his love of pot.
Forchion, a Pemberton Township native who has long been a champion for the legalization of marijuana, was found guilty for possessing marijuana in a trial in May but a verdict could not be reached on the more serious distribution charge.
Forchion, who had been living in California, was arrested in Mount Holly in 2010 with a pound of pot in his trunk. After the retrial this week, the jury in Superior Court in Burlington County deliberated for only a short time on Thursday before returning a verdict of not guilty.
“I’m vindicated,” an upbeat Forchion said in an interview after the verdict announcement on Thursday. “The people just don’t believe in the marijuana laws anymore.”
Forchion, 47, grew up in Browns Mills but later opened a medical marijuana dispensary in California. He was arrested in April 2010 when he returned to New Jersey to visit his children and was stopped in Mount Holly with a pound of pot in his trunk.
Since then, Forchion has heavily promoted his case in an effort to further argue against New Jersey’s marijuana laws.
Forchion was allowed to talk to jurors in both cases about his status as a licensed medical marijuana patient in California. But he was barred from using his oft promoted “jury nullification” argument that would have asked jurors to disregard the state’s laws on marijuana use in determining a verdict that was instead based upon their own view of the substance.
“I think the jurors agree with me,” Forchion said Thursday.
But while avoiding the much more hefty weight of the drug distribution charge, Forchion still faces up to 18 months in prison when sentenced Jan. 17 for drug possession.
Forchion said he hopes the judge will consider the fact he is enrolled in a cancer study in California for painful tumors in his legs.
Prosecutors had alleged over the course of the two trials that the amount of pot found in Forchion’s car in 2010 was evidence he was planning to sell it and not just use the drug for his personal use.
Forchion, who says he relies on marijuana to control pain from his tumors, has maintained that he never had any intent to peddle his “medicine” to others.
The case — believed to be the first in the state in which a defendant was allowed to present evidence of his or her status as a registered medical marijuana patient — gained national attention.
Forchion, a laid back, dread-locked Rastafarian who holds nothing back when it comes to his penchant for the wacky weed, has gained a large following of supporters.
He even admitted to jurors on Thursday he had eaten pot-laced cookies and brownies throughout the proceedings in court.
Forchion’s Facebook page was inundated with messages of congratulations within minutes of his verdict being made public by media outlets on Thursday.
“Being a patient is not a crime and the laws are wrong and there is somebody that fought with all necessary means until HE MADE THEM UNDERSTAND!” one person from Las Vegas wrote, adding later “you are a role model and a hero in my book!!!!”
By Jan Hefler
Inquirer Staff Writer
A flamboyant, longtime advocate of marijuana legalization was acquitted Thursday of drug-related charges, even after admitting that he had a pound in his car when a New Jersey state trooper stopped him two years ago in Mount Holly.
Ed Forchion, known widely as “NJ Weedman,” told a Burlington County jury that he holds a license to use medical marijuana in California and needs the drug to alleviate pain associated with bone cancer.
He is believed to be the first to use such a defense in a criminal case in New Jersey.
“I’m not a weirdo anymore; I’m a hero,” a jubilant Forchion said after the jury found him not guilty of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. “Other patients should use the Weedman defense.”
The prosecutor’s office had no comment on the verdict.
Forchion was being retried after a jury in May deadlocked on the drug-distribution charge. That jury convicted Forchion of a lesser charge of possession, but he says he plans to appeal while he is out on bail.
In January 2010 – three months before Forchion’s arrest – a law was signed in New Jersey allowing marijuana to be sold to patients who have certain serious illnesses, including cancer and multiple sclerosis. The law restricts the drug to state residents who are issued special identification cards after their doctors certify they have such ailments. Only licensed dispensaries may sell the drug.
After several false starts in launching the program, the state this week began mailing out ID cards. No dispensary has yet opened for business.
Forchion, 48, a Rastafarian and a longtime Pemberton resident who had moved to California, was visiting family when he was stopped for a traffic violation. He said in an interview that he thought the New Jersey law would protect him because it recognized medical marijuana.
Prosecutors, however, say that the state has a criminal law that prohibits marijuana possession with intent to distribute and that it applies to all situations outside the medical-marijuana law.
“It’s straightforward,” Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano said during this week’s three-day trial.
Forchion defended himself, with the assistance of public defender Don Ackerman. Forchion tried to argue that the criminal-marijuana law conflicted with the medical-marijuana law and was unjust.
When he began to tell jurors they had the power to nullify the criminal law by acquitting him, Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey stopped him. The judge said jurors could rule only on the facts of the case, not the law, and warned Forchion he could be held in contempt if he continued.
Luciano asked jurors to honor their oath and not use their verdict to demonstrate their “opinion on the war on drugs.”
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated roughly two hours before returning its verdict.