Eighteen months after Gov. Christie reluctantly signed a law lifting the state's ban on edible medical marijuana - in response to parents of severely ill children who had lobbied for a kid-friendly form of cannabis - the administration is signaling a readiness to approve marijuana-infused tablets, drops, syrups, and other products.
Michael Weisser, CEO of Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge and president of the state's dispensary operators association, said the issuance of standards last week will allow him to revive plans he made a year ago to manufacture edibles for children. Assuming approvals are granted quickly, "within two weeks we could bring these to market," he said.
But some of the standards and guidelines seem vague, Weisser said, so he has arranged a meeting with state health department officials this week to get clarification. He is hoping the approval process for the edibles won't be as slow as the process to create the standards.
Weisser said he plans to sell marijuana chocolates and cookies and believes these are permissible even though the new standards do not specifically mention these products.
The new standards define edibles as those that "include tablets, capsules, drops or syrups and any other form as authorized by the Commissioner of Health." When asked whether candies and cookies would be allowed, Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the health department, sidestepped the question. In an e-mail, she said that the definition came from the language in the statute that Christie had signed.
Leusner also wrote: "The manufacturing standard is designed to ensure that the manufacturing process the ATCs (dispensaries) use is sanitary and safe and produces products with consistent strength, quality, purity and packaging. All ingredients and the amounts of each ingredient will be listed on the package labeling."
Leusner provided a copy of the new standards, a 12-page document that outlines manufacturing rules, childproof packaging requirements, and recall procedures, among other things.
Weisser said he demonstrated his manufacturing process to health officials last May and was told new regulations and guidelines would need to be created before they could approve his plans. "It has been frustrating," he said.
Frank Dagostino, the CEO of the Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, near Atlantic City, declined comment, according to a receptionist.
Now, Leusner said, dispensaries will be allowed to proceed "as soon as they demonstrate to the Medicinal Marijuana Program that they have implemented the manufacturing standards."
The five-year-old program has been racked with delays during its implementation. So far, only three of the six dispensaries required by the law have opened, and only about 4,000 patients have registered.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, criticized the process.
"Why did it take them 11/2 years to develop these standards? They exist in other states - why do we have to reinvent the wheel?" he said.
Before signing the edibles bill, Christie had said at town hall meetings that he wanted New Jersey to have a strict medical marijuana program so there would be no abuse. He initially vetoed the bill, saying he wanted the legislature to revise it so edibles would be restricted to children. When lawmakers complied, he approved the law, but said he would not approve any other "expansion" of the program.
Brian Wilson was among the New Jersey parents who had pleaded with Christie to sign the law. His daughter, Vivian, then 2 and suffering from severe seizures, needed cannabis but could not smoke, he said.
Because of the delays, Wilson moved his family to Colorado, where marijuana is legal.
Wilson said Vivian's condition has improved since their relocation more than a year ago. Vivian, now 3, receives marijuana in a tincture.
When he was told of the new standards in New Jersey, he said, "I'm just glad there's some movement, finally." Then, he said that he hoped there will not be another "blockage" by state regulators and more delays. "I just can't imagine when it will be on the shelves," he said.