Demand increases for medical pot, NJ dispensaries respond
With an expanded list of eligible conditions, and the registration fee cut in half, New Jersey has seen a massive uptick in participation in its medicinal marijuana program.
The increased demand is resulting in some delays or changes at the state's dispensaries.
Since March 27, when an overhaul of the program went into effect, an additional 4,000 or so patients have signed on to the program that allows the distribution of marijuana for approved debilitating medical conditions.
"Over the year prior to expansion, we were averaging about 800 new patients every month," said Jeff Brown, the state health department's assistant commissioner for the program. "And in the two months since the expansion, we've been averaging 2,000 patients each month."
The program is now serving close to 23,000 patients. More than 85 percent of the individuals who've signed up since the end of March fall under the newest eligible conditions — migraines, anxiety, Tourette's Syndrome and certain chronic pain.
Other changes to the program included a reduction in the biennial registration fee, from $200 to $100, and a discounted registration rate of $20 for veterans and senior citizens, which was already in place for those on government assistance.
With an uptick in demand, Brown said, officials have been keeping a close eye on the supply side. Walk-ins are available at the state's dispensaries, but wait times can vary between two days and two week, he said.
The patient load has increased between 30 and 50 percent at Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township, according to chairman David Knowlton. To allow their growing operations to catch up with demand, the facility has had to restrict the dosage to a half-ounce for the most popular strains of medicinal marijuana.
"We're okay now, but it'll be a struggle to keep control of inventory if we don't expand," Knowlton said.
The facility has a proposal before the state health department to expand its growing capacity tenfold at a site in Sewell.
As part of its reforms, the state has allowed dispensaries to apply to open satellite locations, to hopefully assist with any short-term supply issues.
Formerly known as Compassionate Sciences, Curaleaf moved its Bellmawr dispensary operations across the street in May and is continuing its cultivation activity at the old site.
There are five Alternative Treatment Centers currently operating in the state. A sixth dispensary could open soon in Secaucus.
Beyond patients, there are also 986 caregivers enrolled in the state's program — they can secure the medicinal marijuana for patients who are too ill or unable to travel.
Following the program's expansion in March, about 85 additional physicians registered. The state health commissioner began a series of lectures last week to explain the changes to physicians and interest them in considering marijuana as a treatment therapy.