Three years ago, the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law, allowing medical marijuana to be grown and sold in the state. NBC 40 got an inside look at the operation that aims to be the first in South Jersey to provide patients with the drug.
"This area's gone be our dispensary." It's a work in progress that's taken quite some time to get to this point, but the Compassionate Care Foundation is getting closer to being up and running every day. "We're not drug dealers," said CEO, William Thomas, "that's not our purpose."
The nonprofit organization hopes to be the first facility in South Jersey to not only grow, but also dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients. "We're running basically a medical facility here," explained Thomas, "you have an appointment, you come in, you go meet with a registered nurse, you're going to talk about the use of marijuana." But that's still a few months away.
Work is still being completed on the former casino warehouse in Egg Harbor Township that will be the greenhouse area, where about 1,500 pot plants will eventually be cultivated and processed - they hope to start growing next week. "It's a very difficult kind of program to get organized considering we are state legal, but federally illegal," said Thomas, who's been a part of the process for nearly 2 years.
It took about a year to find a facility and a municipality that would allow an operation like this in their community - after nearly 20 rejections, officials in Egg Harbor Township gave them the green light. "It's just a different group of people on this side," Thomas said of being able to operate here, "they're much more receptive to new ideas."
There are 885 people registered in the state's medical marijuana program, and only one facility in North Jersey currently operating. The plan for this facility is to grow and process enough marijuana for 500 patients to get a three-month supply, but officials say their operations will be driven by the need of the patients, and they have the room to expand if need be. "I'm only growing to that number of patients, so we're using an estimate right now, but I have to tie a patient to a plant," he explained, "so in the future, I'm only going to fill those other grow rooms if I have the patients that register with us and want the medicine."
Medicine that officials here feel will be the answer to ease the suffering of many, who've been waiting a long time for the plants that will soon be grown here, to be available to them legally.
Compassionate Care Foundation hopes to start dispensing the drug to qualified patients by September. As of right now, the only legal dispensary in the state is in Montclair, and another one in Middlesex County should open around the same time as the Egg Harbor Township facility.