Greenleaf Compassion Center co-founder Joe Stevens answers the telephone at the dispensary in Montclair, the day before it opened on Dec. 6. Faced with overwhelming patient demand and not enough product to sell, Stevens said patients registered in the medical marijuana program who live in north Jersey will get priority.
TRENTON — Despite being among the first to receive her ID card for the state’s medical marijuana program last fall, Risa Sanders of Long Branch said she is still waiting to get an appointment with New Jersey’s only licensed dispensary.
This week, however, Sanders became one of the 376 severely ill patients registered with the New Jersey Medicinal Marijuana Program who are unlikely to ever reach the top of Greenleaf Compassion Center’s waiting list.
The owners of Greenleaf alternative treatment center in Montclair announced Thursday that because they have been inundated by the demand and never expected they would be the only open dispensary that any new patients they take on will be from the seven-county north Jersey region they were licensed to serve.
“I don’t blame them. They were never meant to handle the whole state,” said Sanders said, a 54-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis.
The five other nonprofit cultivators and sellers the state health department selected two years ago have either struggled to find a community willing to host them, or have not yet cleared the state’s vetting process.
“(Gov.) Chris Christie has made this so restrictive and with so many hoops to go through to be a legit, the law is unworkable,” Sanders said. “I don’t see the law getting more realistic until we get a new governor.”
Since opening Dec. 6, Greenleaf have served 117 patients – some of them numerous times - from across New Jersey. Greenleaf’s decision means the 297 patients living in the north Jersey counties of Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren will get preference over the 242 patients in central Jersey and 104 patients in south Jersey.
Anne Davis, an attorney suing the state for allegedly mismanaging the medical marijuana program, said Greenleaf bears some responsibility for the problems.
“Greenleaf cannot handle the task they were picked to do,” Davis said. “They had to be ready to serve the patients of the state and where they live has no bearing on their ability to cultivate.”
“If Greenleaf is incompetent, the state has to be ready to move on” and approve other dispensaries, Davis added.
Greenleaf co-founder Joe Stevens declined to comment on Davis’ remarks.
A spokeswoman for Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd disagrees with Greenleaf’s decision and wants Greenleaf to go back to serving patients in the order they were registered. O’Dowd also has urged Greenleaf 's owners to sell more of the marijuana they have grown but have refused to use because they claim it is of inferior potency.
Donna Leusner, O’Dowd’s spokeswoman, said four of the five dispensaries have identified host communities, and two – Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor and Compassionate Care Centers of America Foundation in Woodbridge -- are far along in the vetting process.