South Jersey suburbs still waiting for medical marijuana dispensary

     Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver, Friday Dec. 27, 2013.  (Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)

    Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver, Friday Dec. 27, 2013. (Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)

    Four years after New Jersey passed its medical marijuana law, there are only three locations where qualifying patients can buy the drug. For residents in South Jersey, the nearest dispensary is Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City.

    “The only reason people have to drive across the state is because no town on the western part of the state would allow us to come in,” said Bill Thomas, the CEO of Compassionate Care. He said sees many patients coming in from Camden County and surrounding areas.

    The region is slated to get its first dispensary, although not until the summer, at the earliest.

    Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center, which is setting up about six miles south of Camden in Bellmawr, got initial approval in February of last year, but it wasn’t until August that its business plan was approved by the state, and construction began just last week.

    “We really love Bellmawr because it’s a tremendous location,” said Andrei Bogolubov, a spokesman for Compassionate Sciences. “You have the Parkway and the New Jersey Pike coming through, plus some local roads, highways, state highways. So it’s a very accessible spot.”

    Getting to this point has taken more than a year. The New Jersey Department of Health spent months reviewing the business plan, ensuring that it would operate fully as a nonprofit, as required by law.

    “The important thing was to make sure the organization was adequately financed and had the expertise to deliver an important palliative drug,” said Bogolubov, “and to do it on a scalable and sustainable way to the high standards that the Department of Health has set.”

    Additional vetting of all investors, along with a facility inspection and product testing remain to be done. Donna Leusner, a representative of the health department, said the process doesn’t always take a long time, but depends on the complexity of funding sources and the ability of the treatment centers to respond to questions. The review of Greenleaf, a dispensary serving northern New Jersey, took only four months.

    As of last Tuesday, New Jersey had 1,800 people registered in its medical marijuana program. In order to use the dispensaries, each patient must have a participating physician certify that they have a qualifying illness, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal