Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 2010
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2010 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press Writer


MONTCLAIR, N.J.-After careers in human resources and business consulting, 
Marianne Bays is tired of the corporate world. The 57-year-old's choice for 
a change: trying to become one of New Jersey's first legal pot dealers.

In January, New Jersey became the 14th state to allow the sale and use of 
medical marijuana. The law goes into effect July 1, but it's expected to 
take several months before the state has regulations in place and the 
"alternative treatment centers" where patients will be able to get cannabis.

For now, Bays and others-perhaps dozens of them-are quietly setting up 
nonprofit groups that will apply to run the first treatment centers in the 
most populous state outside California to allow medical marijuana.

Bays has been telling family and friends about the new career, which she is 
planning when she's not working her temporary job helping run the Newark 
office for the U.S. Census.

"So far, nobody's looked at me and said something negative to me about it," 
said Bays, who has a doctorate in business organization. "They've laughed."

The button-down Bays doesn't fit the "Pineapple Express" stereotype of a 
bud purveyor. There's no "420" sticker on her Acura. She loves gardening, 
but the only herbs she grows are culinary-like rosemary and basil.

She and her husband live in a spacious home in Montclair, a famously 
open-minded New York City suburb. She says marijuana has always been 
available in her social
circles. But she said school and work never left her much time to indulge.

Over the last few years, she's learned that some family and friends have 
found marijuana to ease symptoms associated with conditions from multiple 
sclerosis to migraines. The drug is used to treat pain, nausea and lack of 

She threw herself into learning more, including classes at Oaksterdam 
University, an Oakland, Calif., school dedicated to the pot business. She's 
also traveled in California with a friend-suffering from multiple 
sclerosis-who was able to go into pot dispensaries because of her 
condition. Bays would wait outside then quiz her friend about the operations.

Another of the likely marijuana provider applicants in New Jersey is Anne 
M. Davis, a lawyer who also consults with several people interested in 
opening treatment centers.

She says she's hearing from current drug dealers who want to go legit, 
caregivers who already procure marijuana for the sick, and career 
changers-especially commercial real estate agents who have fallen on slow 
times. Some of the dispensaries in California, where medical marijuana laws 
are less restrictive, are looking into opening branches here, Davis said.

There are people with smart business plans and people experienced with 
growing the plants-illegally of course.

"They think, 'Hey, I'm going to open this great business and I'm going to 
make a fortune,'" Davis said. "But that's not what it's going to be. It's 
going to be very strictly regulated in New Jersey."

Those regulations are not yet written, and Gov. Chris Christie, who says he 
supports the medical marijuana bill, is trying to win a delay to give his 
administration extra time to write them.

Still, the state's new law offers a glimpse at how the clinics will operate.

It requires at least six nonprofit groups be given the first licenses. They 
must be spread around the state. Subsequent clinics could be for-profit.

Unlike other states, New Jersey will not allow patients to grow their own. 
Instead, that will be handled by the centers that distribute marijuana. 
Patients will be tracked and allowed to buy only 2 ounces per month.

Only doctors who have ongoing relationships with the patients will be able 
to approve marijuana use for them. Only people with certain medical 
conditions will be allowed to use. Cancer, glaucoma and any prognosis that 
gives the patient less that a year to live are on the list; headaches are not.

Bays and another potential treatment center operator, Joseph Stevens, both 
say they would have their growing operations located away from the 
treatment centers for security reasons. Their business plans call for 
growing indoors so that harvesting can be done year-round.

Stevens said town officials in the place he wants to operate have accepted 
the idea, but he's not yet ready to say where it would be.

Pretty much the only thing he's made public so far is a logo for his 
establishment, called The Health Clinic and bearing the not-so-subtle 
motto: "A HIGHER standard of care."

Stevens, 37, said that 15 years ago, when his father was dying from 
non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a doctor suggested marijuana to ease the pain. His 
dad refused because it was illegal. Stevens thinks his father may have 
tried it if it were legal.

The idea stuck with Stevens when he worked as a funeral director and in 
medical imaging, meeting patients and families who said marijuana helped them.

"I don't smoke marijuana, to tell you the truth," said Stevens, who lives 
in Vernon. "I was never into that. It's hard to believe, I know."

Both Stevens and Bays, who wants to open her center in Asbury Park, 
envision clinics where patients could get other services-perhaps massage, 
acupuncture or yoga classes.

In other states, that's one model. But some dispensaries are more like 
stores; others resemble cafes. It's not clear now whether New Jersey might 
end up with a full range of types of establishments.

The prospective sellers are now spending time puzzling through possible 
local zoning requirements, learning what strains of pot might ease pain and 
other medical symptoms, and registering as nonprofits.

Stevens says he's secured donations of fertilizer, hydroponics equipment 
and even cash for an operation that he expects will cost $2 million to launch.

Bays is working on a business plan with a relatively low startup cost, but 
the ability to expand fast. She's holding weekly teleconferences with 
members of her team, including a nursing student who used to work in a 
California dispensary.

And she's trying to avoid mere hobbyists. "I can't afford anybody who 
thinks this is a kick," she said.

It all makes the pot business sound a little like the business world she's 
seeking to leave.
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