The first of six alternative treatment centers granted medical cannabis permits a year ago opened on Dec. 20 in Paterson.
Rise Dispensaries, located at 196 3rd Avenue, is owned by Illinois-based medical cannabis firm Green Thumb Industries.
“We’re looking forward to helping patients,” said GTI New Jersey chief executive Devra Karlebach. “We can help enroll them, we can help with any issues with their medical marijuana card, we can help them with great selection. If we need more space, we can expand that way,” she said, gesturing to the back of the building.
The New Jersey Department of Health announced Dec. 19 it had issued a permit allowing the GTI to operate and dispense medical marijuana at Rise Dispensaries, making it the state’s seventh ATC. Licenses for the “new six” were announced in December 2018, but a variety hiccups delayed the first opening until now.
“Welcome to New Jersey,” she said. “We unfortunately had an EPA issue at one of our buildings, so we wound up switching locations.”
GTI’s cultivation site is also in Paterson.
New Jersey’s medical cannabis program has grown significantly under the Murphy administration, now with more than 63,840 patients, 2,430 caregivers and 1,000 participating physicians. For many of those patients, the opening of a new dispensary is a welcome relief, said Jeff Brown, assistant commissioner of the Division of Medicinal Marijuana at the New Jersey Department of Health .
“We hear on a daily basis about how far people have to travel to get their medicine, how people have to drive sometimes an hour or two hours to get the products that work best for them,” Brown said. “This is an area that has been underserved, so we’re incredibly excited to bring access to patients here in Paterson and in North Jersey.”
The DOH, Brown said, has been trying to move forward and ensure that the agency is expanding the market consistent with patient demand.
Brown added that while there is no specific timeline for opening the remaining five ATCs awarded licenses last December, the DOH is “pushing them hard.”
“We have two that are close, there are others right behind them, and we’re going to continue to push until we see them all open up,” Brown said.
Due to program reforms under the Murphy administration, including the addition of five new medical conditions (anxiety, migraines, two forms of chronic pain and Tourette Syndrome), allowing ATCs to post prices and adding mobile access to the patient registry, the medical cannabis program continues to grow. One day this week, 250 new patients joined the program, Brown said.
Paterson Mayor Andrew Sayegh called Rise’s opening “a victory on three different levels.”
‘We have to reinvent ourselves’
First, eight of Rise’s 11 employees are Patersonians. Second, the Paterson City Council is developing an ordinance that would tax medical cannabis products 2 percent, providing a revenue stream for the city, which has a structural deficit of $54 million, the mayor said.
“And three, I’ve had countless constituents come to me and say, ‘why do I have to travel to Secaucus and Montclair for my medical cannabis?’ Now they can come here and spend their money here, instead of spend it on gas to go out of town and put mileage on their cars,” he said. “On three levels, it’s a big, big victory for us.”
“Plus, we’re the first planned industrial city in the country, and this is an emerging industry. We have to reinvent ourselves,” Sayegh said.
Sayegh was enthusiastic about medical cannabis when he took office in July 2018, and leading up to and into the application round that led to the 2018 license awards, his team met with over 20 individuals interested in setting up shop in Paterson.
“GTI was definitely one of our top choices,” said Mike Powell, Paterson’s director of economic development. “What we really liked about these guys—in the  states that have gone recreational as well, it seems like there’s different ways you can really go about doing it. In Oregon, it’s really kind of like a free-for-all. The other states where its much more regulated and intentionally planned, those are the markets that GTI is in. That’s one of the reasons we liked their model, and part of the reason we were happy to support their application.”
The dispensary will open to patients on Dec. 21, and will operate 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.