Pubdate: Fri, 18 Mar 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Jan Hefler, Philadelphia Inquirer


As Pennsylvania moves closer to adopting a medical marijuana program, 
New Jersey has released a report on its six-year-old program that 
says its dispensaries charge the highest price for an ounce of 
marijuana on average, compared with other states with similar programs.

The Department of Health report said the five dispensaries operating 
statewide charge an average of $489 per ounce, about 37 percent more 
than the average price in Arizona, New Mexico, Vermont, Maine, and 
Rhode Island. Most of these states have a cost-of-living index of 10 
percent or less than New Jersey, said the report, released this month.

But advocates for medical marijuana patients say the price in New 
Jersey is actually the highest in the nation, not just in the 
sampling of states in the report. "Anecdotally, what we are hearing 
is, New Jersey's is the most expensive. It would have behooved them 
to do a complete list, to check the prices in all 23 states with a 
medical marijuana program," said Roseann Scotti, state director of 
the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Health Department is required to file biennial reports that, 
among other things, determine whether the cost of medical marijuana 
is excessive.

"The department should be concerned if patients can't afford the 
price, because then they will access the illegal market or do without 
their medication. It's not right for them to be denied medical help 
they need because of their financial situation," Ms. Scotti said.

The Health Department, however, concluded that the price in New 
Jersey is reasonable, saying it is "comparable with the price in 
states with similar regulatory models" and is "within 5 and 16 
percent of New Jersey black market marijuana." Patients should expect 
to pay more because the medical marijuana is regulated and tested, 
the report said.

Michael Nelson, general manager of the Compassionate Sciences 
dispensary in Bellmawr, Camden County, said the average price 
reported in the Health Department report does not take into 
consideration the discounts his facility offers. "We have medicine 
available for much less," he said, noting the dispensary regularly 
discounts two of its 14 to 16 strains each month, and also offers 
reduced pricing for patients on low incomes. On average, he said, the 
price for these clients is about $300 an ounce. The dispensary opened 
last September.

Donna Leusner, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said some 
dispensaries "grant discounts to certain customers, such as veterans 
and patients that receive government assistance. Approximately 48 
percent of the patients who participate in the New Jersey Medicinal 
Marijuana Program have received a discount from the department on 
their registration fee," she said.

Ms. Leusner did not respond to a request for comment on why the 
Health Department did not analyze the average prices at all 23 states 
with medical marijuana programs.

The Pennsylvania House voted Wednesday to legalize medical marijuana. 
The bill is expected to pass in the Senate and be signed by Gov. Tom 
Wolf in the next few weeks. The program could be implemented in a 
year. The bill calls for patients with cancer, epilepsy, multiple 
sclerosis, intractable seizures, and other conditions to purchase 
medical marijuana in pill, oil, or ointment form at dispensaries.

In New Jersey, only marijuana buds are approved for sale in the 
dispensaries. Plans call for oils and lozenges to be sold after the 
manufacturing processes are approved by the state.

The New Jersey report said that five of the six dispensaries planned 
for the state are open, including two in South Jersey. Besides the 
Bellmawr dispensary, the Compassionate Care Foundation operates a 
facility in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City.

The report also said 6,960 patients and 631 caregivers have 
registered with the program statewide. About 450 physicians also are 
registered, including 362 that are active.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom