Patient registry is in the works for potential medical marijuana users

August 20, 2010

Susan K. Livio, The Star-Ledger

People with serious chronic diseases who want to participate in the state's medical marijuana program may be able to sign up for a patient registry within the next four to six weeks, an advocacy group leader said today. Speaking to about 75 prospective patients, legal advocates and aspiring marijuana merchants at the State Museum in Trenton, Chris Goldstein of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey said state health officials are now "actively working" on launching the patient registry after initial delays.

Patients must join the registry the state Department of Health and Senior Services will use to verify with their physicians that they have one of the nine conditions allowed under the new law.

"There is strong intent to bring the registry online before the rules are issued," Goldstein said, referring to the rules outlining how the dispensaries, or alternative treatment centers, will operate. "You may see it available this fall."

Gov. Chris Christie's administration is expected to release those rules by Oct. 1.

The mood at the coalition's regular meeting was largely upbeat -- much different from June, when Christie and the Legislature agreed to a 90-day delay, from July 1 to Oct. 1, for releasing the rules that will dictate how the law will work. The law passed in January.

After getting a long-awaited meeting with state health officials about two weeks ago, Goldstein said he came away from it feeling "they are sincere about having medical marijuana in New Jersey."

But some acknowledged they are short on patience.

Dan Levine, 25, of New Brunswick said he was disappointed Democrats, who sponsored the law and hold the majority in the Legislature, caved in so quickly when Christie wanted the delay.

"Everyone who should have stood in the way of the delay didn't," he said.

Steph Sherer, executive director of the national advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access, warned the group they are entering the implementation phase of the law, which is the hardest. If flaws need correcting, "the average time between the passage of legislation and cleanup legislation is seven years" she said.

Sherer helped the group plan a strategy -- relying on other advocacy groups, physicians, and even political campaign donors -- to keep pressure on elected officials.

"We are winning this fight and you have to carry yourself that way," she said.

Goldstein said he has been advising aspiring medical marijuana entrepreneurs to not rush into the business.

"If they don't have the capital to sustain themselves through a tough regulatory process, wait. You better be prepared to lose a lot of money and focus on taking care of patients in the first few years," Goldstein said during a separate interview.

The law initially limits the distribution sites, also known as "alternative treatment centers," to six run by nonprofit groups.

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