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Mastering medical marijuana Why NJ has some catching up to do with neighboring states

An assortment of products available by delivery from medical cannabis provider PharmaCann.-(AARON HOUSTON)

As one of the most expansive medical marijuana providers in the country, Curaleaf’s presence spans 12 states. New Jersey is among them, as is New York and Pennsylvania.As one of the most expansive medical marijuana providers in the country, Curaleaf’s presence spans 12 states. New Jersey is among them, as is New York and Pennsylvania.

Last month, Curaleaf New York announced it would start offering delivery to medical marijuana patients in the Empire State, expanding the ways in which patients could access their medicine while making it easier for the homebound.

Delivery in New Jersey currently is prohibited. The same holds true in Pennsylvania.

According to Jeff Brown, the New Jersey Department of Health’s assistant commissioner for medicinal marijuana, the DOH is evaluating issues pertaining to home delivery.

“Because many patients suffer from conditions that impede their ability to travel to an actual dispensary, home delivery could help them access their medication more effectively,” Brown said. “But it will have to be well-regulated to prevent diversion and ensure the safety of patients and caregivers.” 

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-19th District, who is sponsoring a medicinal marijuana bill expected to be introduced before the end of the year, said delivery wasn’t written into his draft of the bill.

“It’s a controlled dangerous substance and it needs to be controlled in a manner — it’s a potential diversion issue,” Vitale said. “Maybe in the future it’s something we can think about but right off the bat I don’t think it should.”

In New York, Curaleaf is one of four registered organizations — that’s the state’s term for medical marijuana facilities, or what New Jersey calls alternative treatment centers — that delivers medicinal cannabis to patients.

According to Curaleaf NY President Michelle Bodner, the program is small and will remain “expensive to execute until it grows to scale.”

The delivery program from another RO, PharmaCann NY, is expanding, said its communications director Kate Walden.

“Depending on the day and location, 5 [percent] to 20 percent of our patients currently take advantage of the service, but with our expanded delivery across the state, the extensive discount programs we have and the continuous introduction of new products, we expect that to increase exponentially,” she said.

Currently, two of PharmaCann NY’s dispensaries in the Bronx and Amherst offer delivery service. Within the next few weeks, it will expand its offerings to its remaining dispensaries in Albany and Syracuse, with delivery to be offered in a 60- to 100-mile radius.

“Ideal for medical cannabis patients with mobility challenges or those just seeking a more convenient alternative to traveling to their dispensary, the door-to-door service is private, discrete and just a phone call away,” Walden said. “It also gives patients more choices that otherwise would not be locally available.”

New Jersey’s current answer to its access issues is its caregiver program. The DOH allows patients two caregivers of their choice. According to Brown, the department has yet to encounter a patient who wanted a caregiver but wasn’t able to find one. And if a patient wanted their nurse, for example, to be their designated caregiver, the DOH would allow that.

Nevertheless, New Jersey Cannabis Industry Association President Hugh O’Beirne said he believes lack of delivery in the state likely poses issues for some patients.

“How many people don’t sign up because they don’t have a caregiver and can’t get there themselves? You don’t know,” he posited.

The DOH on Oct. 22 said the state’s medicinal marijuana program had doubled in size since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January, hitting 34,000 patients and growing. The number of registered doctors has increased to 800, averaging out to 43 patients per doctor.

In New York, 1,981 doctors handle 78,534 patients for a ratio of 40:1; and in Pennsylvania, 900 doctors handle 52,600 patients at a ratio of 58:1.

All three states have caregiver programs: There are 1,345 registered in New Jersey, 9,300 in Pennsylvania and 10,257 in New York.

Where New Jersey lags far behind New York and Pennsylvania is in number of dispensaries. Six ATCs currently sustain the state’s 34,000-patient population, with six more to come when new licenses are granted in the coming weeks. Pennsylvania has 39 dispensaries up and running with 13 others planned, and New York has 22 with 18 more coming.

The current patient-to-dispensary rate in New York is 3,342:1; in New Jersey it’s 5,667:1; and in Pennsylvania, 1,349:1. After the planned dispensaries are opened, the rate will be 1,963:1 in New York, 2,833:1 for New Jersey, and 1,012:1 in Pennsylvania.

Until this summer, New Jersey was the only state of the three that would prescribe flower. New York still doesn’t, and Pennsylvania started allowing flower to be used with a vaporizer as of Aug. 1. Unlike New Jersey, Pennsylvania doesn’t sell glassware because it doesn’t support smoking.

According to O’Bierne, the ramping up of the medical program in one state helps move the others forward as well.

“They’re all going to adjust as [Pennsylvania] did with vaporizable flower,” he said. “It’s ratcheting. [Pennsylvania] ratchets up, then we ratchet up.”

None of the three currently allow for edibles, but they could be on the horizon in New Jersey.

“Whatever the department decides is appropriate and will benefit a patient, then they’ll be able to manufacture, produce and distribute it,” Vitale said.

In kind, Brown said the DOH supports edibles for all patients once the legislation allows for it.

Kelley Crosson, an NJCIA board member and former major gifts director at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project, said this bodes well for patients who can consume cannabis more comfortably in different ways.

Crosson got involved in medical marijuana advocacy a decade ago after her father used it as part of his cancer treatment. A former cigarette smoker, he found smoking it more comfortable and effective, whereas edibles made him sick.

“It was tricky in past years to open up [what forms are available] because the research wasn’t available, but we do have enough medical marijuana states to know patients respond to different strains, and that strains needs to be available in various forms — flower and oils and edible,” Crosson said.

New Jersey’s offerings include tinctures, vaporizing pens, lozenges and topical forms in addition to flower. New York has sublingual tinctures, vape pens, capsules and tablets. In Pennsylvania, patients can get oils, tinctures, topical forms, liquid forms, pills and flower.

The medical program in New York is open to those with a non-New York State ID. In New Jersey, residents from out of state who wish to become patients must first obtain a state ID, making it challenging for those who come here for education or work to obtain medicine.

New Jersey patient registration lasts for two years, but doctors need to reassess their condition and renew prescriptions every 30, 60, or 90 days.

Vitale’s bill, as written, allows for 12-month prescriptions.

“This helps them if they’re homebound and can’t get out as often not have to go to the doctor and get a new prescription,” and it saves on costs, he said.

“You pay when you go to the doctor, it’s not free. It’s all out of pocket. So a 12-month script is a big savings for them,” Vitale said.

Once patients are registered in New York, they can go to any RO to obtain their medicine with an active prescription. In New Jersey, however, patients must reregister with each ATC they want to purchase from.

“This is absurd,” said Crosson, adding it limits the products available to the patient to whatever a dispensary has and doesn’t allow the patient to get medicine from a different dispensary without being registered there.

But, she continued, these types of access issues will be corrected over time.

“New Jersey’s medical marijuana law was set up to be terrifically restrictive because [former Gov. Chris] Christie didn’t believe that cannabis was medicine. They wanted to make it as hard as possible,” she said. “But taking the ‘let’s not blame everything on Christie position,’ there was also a fear with doctors who didn’t have experience with cannabis. They’ve been told for years and years that it’s a street drug and that it’s as dangerous as methamphetamine.

“These restrictions were set up in the name of fear, but now we know better and can peel it back. It just takes time. Government bureaucracy is a slow-moving animal.”

Gabrielle Saulsbery
Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at

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