Pubdate: Sun, 09 Sep 2012
Source: Record, The (Hackensack, NJ)
Copyright: 2012 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Author: Mary Jo Layton


The state's first medical marijuana dispensary is scheduled to open in
Montclair this month, but some physicians registered with the program
aren't participating or won't accept new patients.

Statewide, 165 doctors have registered and 134 patients have signed up
or are in the process of becoming eligible for prescriptions to ease
the pain associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious
or terminal illnesses, state health officials said.

The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair will open as soon as it
receives final approvals from local authorities and the state, which
it expects within two weeks, said Joseph Stevens, the center's
president and chief executive officer. The dispensary will open on
Bloomfield Avenue, a bustling hub of restaurants, a concert venue and
women's health center.

A funeral director for 12 years, Stevens said he knew from many
families how marijuana eased symptoms of terminal illness without
leaving loved ones "incoherent from potent painkillers."

"It's just giving people a quality of life at the end they might not
otherwise have," he said.

But some potential patients say they are having trouble finding a
doctor willing to help them get a prescription for marijuana.

Englewood resident Irvina Booker, a 60-year-old grandmother who has
debilitating pain from multiple sclerosis, said she called about 10
physicians in North Jersey in recent weeks who have registered with
the state to write prescriptions for marijuana. A few were not
registering patients, and the others charged up to $300 for the
initial visit -- on top of the $200 registration fee New Jersey
requires for patients, she said.

"I'm hoping a doctor will come along and take me at a regular price,"
said Booker. Smoking marijuana is the only remedy for muscle spasms
that left her bedridden in a fetal position, she said.

An informal survey by a member of the Coalition for Medical
Marijuana-New Jersey, an advocacy group, found that Booker's
experience is not unusual.

Doctors surveyed

Vanessa Walz, a board member of the coalition and breast cancer
survivor, called 148 physicians registered by the state to provide the
prescriptions. She found that 50 would not accept her as a new patient
and 46 were willing to treat her. The rest could not be reached.

"It's really discouraging," Walz said. "The most critically ill
patients need people to advocate for them."

The Record called local physicians and found that four of the nine
doctors in Passaic County registered for the program said they are not
participating or are not accepting new patients. Two are accepting
patients, and three others could not be reached for comment. In
Bergen, 32 physicians are listed in the program, the website says. Ten
were contacted by The Record - six were accepting patients and three
were not. One physician did not respond.

Dr. Kenneth Park, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist
in Oradell, is registering only his existing patients. "I didn't want
my patients to spend $200 each time for a couple of visits with
another doctor," he said.

John O'Brien, director of the state's medicinal marijuana program,
said he encourages patients to talk with their physicians, which could
prompt more doctors to register for the program.

"Many doctors join the program at the behest of their patients,"
O'Brien said.

Once his dispensary in Montclair is operating, Stevens expects many
more patients and physicians to register. As the others come on line -
one in South Jersey will open next - the treatment will become more
accepted by physicians and patients, he said.

Although New Jersey's law was signed in early 2010, it has taken years
for it to go into effect as more regulations were added, making it
among the most stringent of the 17 states and the District of Columbia
that permit medical marijuana.

Governor Christie and many legislators wanted to avoid problems in
other states - U.S. attorneys have shut down at least 500 dispensaries
in California in recent months, after investigations revealed
countless prescriptions were obtained for recreational use.

New Jersey is permitting just six dispensaries. Patients must register
with the state and obtain prescriptions from a physician who has
either treated them for a year or has seen them on at least four
visits. The state also gives physicians the discretion to decide when
to make a recommendation after examining a patient and his medical
history and agreeing to "take over the long-term care of the patient,"
O'Brien said.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist
in Mahwah, said his office has received two to three calls a week from
prospective patients. Most fail to submit their medical histories
before making an appointment, which he requires.

"A lot of the onus will be on the practitioner to make sure patients
aren't coming out of the woodwork and abusing the system," he said.

For those patients who have tried traditional therapies to no avail,
marijuana can relieve pain and other symptoms of cancer and other
serious or chronic illness, he said.

Gottlieb recalled a former Bergen County judge who had a recurrence of
cancer, which metastasized to his bones and caused excruciating pain.
Several legal prescriptions failed, including long-acting morphine.
The judge told Gottlieb he found relief from marijuana and continued
using it until his death.

"A lot of the medications we write prescriptions for are a lot worse
than marijuana," he said.


Details of New Jersey's law

- - Requires a physician to certify a patient has "a debilitating
medical condition'' including terminal cancer; Lou Gehrig's disease or
ALS; multiple sclerosis; muscular dystrophy; inflammatory bowel
disease including Crohn's disease; HIV/AIDS

- - Requires an established patient-physician relationship before
registering patient

- - Requires the state to vet applicants, including a residency check,
association with physician, and other information

- - Caps the amount of marijuana at 2 ounces per month

- - Permits patients too sick to travel to designate a caregiver who
must register with the state and undergo a background check before
obtaining medical marijuana

- - Limits the state to six dispensaries, each needing multiple permits
and inspections before opening

- - An ounce of medical marijuana will sell for approximately $250 to

For more information:

State customer service hotline: 609-292-0424 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday to Friday.

Source: state Department of Health and Senior Services
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