Pubdate: Thu, 11 Nov 2010
Source: Advertiser-News, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2010 Straus Newspapers
Author: Becca Tucker


Cannabis proponents come out of the shadows, put heads together

Wantage -- When Prohibition was repealed, mailmen used Mack trucks to
haul the applications for liquor licenses over to City Hall. The
"green rush" that's about to happen in New Jersey, which recently
became the 14th state to legalize medical marijuana, will be on a
smaller scale, thanks to a $20,000 price tag for a growers license and
a laundry list of restrictions.

Darrell Milligan, who suffers from constant muscle spasms, and his
fledgling Sussex County nonprofit North Jersey Compassionate Care are
determined to secure one of the six state licenses to be issued
shortly by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. Eight
people, aged 23 to 71, showed up for the group's second meeting, Nov.
3 at the Sussex-Wantage Library.

"I'd like to change people's mindsets," said Bill Kleiner, 49, who has
Crohn's disease. That's one of the handful of conditions that will
qualify a patient for medical marijuana in New Jersey. "We're just
looking to not get busted. To use something that will help us and not
go to jail. We don't want to deal with drug dealers," he said.

Bill's wife Cindy Kleiner, 47, was hit by a dump truck 13 years ago
and began having crippling migraines and stomach problems that kept
her locked in the house. She is currently taking prescribed Marinol,
which is synthetic THC in pill form, but which she said is not very

THC is the chemical compound found in marijuana.

State rules

The state plans to license four distribution centers and just two
growers, according to draft regulations released in October. Of the 14
states that allow medical marijuana, only California, New Mexico,
Rhode Island, Maine and New Jersey allow dispensaries to grow and/or
sell it. In Sussex, they want to grow.

"We're passionate about organic produce. We would love to do that
[grow marijuana] in conjunction with growing sprouts," said Cindy
Kleiner, who was studying to be a CPA when she was injured and hasn't
been able to work since. "I really want to help people, and create for
myself a job I can do. I'm excellent with the books; he [Bill] is a

Nadine Stevens, 23, is deputy-chair of the organization. "I want to
grow marijuana for the state of New Jersey," she proclaimed. Stevens
grows organic tomatoes in Wantage and describes herself as an "artist,
minister and writer."

Bumpy road ahead

New Jersey's medical marijuana program is commonly acknowledged to be
the most restrictive in the country.

"The law treats marijuana like a pharmaceutical, which in some ways
looks really forward. It treats marijuana like medicine more here than
it does in any other state," said Chris Goldstein of the Coalition for
Medical Marijuana New Jersey.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, chairman of the Assembly Health and Human
Services Committee, has a medical degree. "New Jersey's law had a
physician's hand," said Goldstein. "A doctor's language went right
into the bill."

The fact that it's a completely unique program makes it tough to
navigate, and much of the Sussex meeting was devoted to discussing
challenges. But the group is used to meeting challenges. Before the
program was implemented, Coalition members protested in Trenton every
week hoping to pressure the Department of Health to finalize it.

Now that it has, the Coalition wants the state to amend its law to
make it less restrictive. Cindy Kleiner testified at a Senate and
Assembly hearing Monday, Nov. 8.

Here are some of the problems the group has identified.

The rules do not allowing edible products. "The problem with that,"
says Cindy Kleiner, "is that if you smoke marijuana, it lasts an hour
and a half to two hours. A medical person would have to keep doing
that all day. If you eat it, it stays in your body eight to 12 hours.
It's much safer, and a much better way to ingest it."

"Physicians are going to be leery" of registering with the Department
of Health, worries Bill Kleiner. But that is what they need to do
before they can recommend cannabis for their patients.

The cost may be prohibitive. Stevens worries that eligible patients
won't see enough reason to switch from illegal to legal marijuana.
Because it costs $200 to register as a medical marijuana patient, and
an additional $200 to register a primary caregiver, on top of the cost
of the the marijuana. Marijuana can sell in other states for $100 an
ounce and up.

Regulated marijuana may be less potent than what is available on the
black market.

Growers may have a hard time raising the $20,000 license fee.
Additionally, growers will have other business costs, including
materials and equipment and a security system.

But the real catch is that even for those who do earn a license,
there's always a risk the federal government will raid the operation,
since medical marijuana is not recognized as legal on a national
level. That risk became more serious when New Jersey announced it
would have just two growing operations, not six, as originally planned.

"They can still do raids on New Jersey farms and take everything a
farmer owns," Ed Wengryn, spokesman for the New Jersey Farm Bureau. He
was responding to an inquiry from the Advertiser-News about whether
farmers had shown interest in growing marijuana. (They're not
interested, said Wengryn, because there are too many regulations and
"farmers in general like to be left alone to do their own thing.")

Out of the shadows

Public perception is a big part of the battle, Ed Hughes, 71, told the
Sussex County group. Use the word "re-legalize" instead of "legalize"
- -- since cannabis was legal until the 1930s -- and "cannabis" instead
of marijuana, which has negative associations, he recommended. Hughes,
of Sussex Borough, who started smoking in the 1960s, described himself
as a cross between a modern Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau, and
gave out business cards listing his Web site, which doesn't exist.

People see 23-year-old tattoo artist Edmund Fortuna as "just some punk
kid who wants to smoke and grow pot," Fortuna said. He knows he is not
the best person to spread the message that it's not weed, but
prescription pills like OxyContin that are turning kids into drug addicts.

Fortuna, a member of the nonprofit's board, encourages adults he knows
who have some influence in the community and who use marijuana, to be
open about it.

"People think, if I stay in the shadows, I'll be all right," Fortuna
said. "Why doesn't everyone get together and support each other?"


How does New Jersey compare?

A grower's license in New Jersey carries a $20,000 price tag.

If an application is rejected, the state keeps $2,000.

In New Mexico, a dispensary license costs just the $100 application

In Rhode Island, $5,000 plus a $250 application fee. In Maine, it's

Colorado is the only state that allows for-profit dispensaries. A
license costs between $7,500 and $18,000, depending on the size of the
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