More than two years after New Jersey legislators passed a law allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, patients qualified to receive the drug may register for identification cards beginning Thursday.
That doesn't mean they will soon receive a prescription for cannabis.
The state Department of Health has granted preliminary approval to just six nonprofit marijuana dispensaries, and only one is expected to have the drug available by next month.
The Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, Essex County, announced a few months ago that it would likely harvest a crop in September, but it has not received final approval to sell the drug to patients.
Another dispensary owner has said he plans to open for business in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, in October if he receives approval.
The rest of the would-be dispensary operators - including one who hopes to set up in South Jersey - are still trying to find sites and obtain local permits.
For months, the dispensary owners have prodded the state to begin the registration process so patients can be ready to buy the drug as soon as crops are processed.
Julio Valentin, an owner of the Greenleaf Compassion Center, said in April he had been reluctant to begin growing, given the uncertainty about when the registry would open.
"I'm very happy. I'm looking forward to serving the people of New Jersey," Valentin said Wednesday.
He said he expected his crop to be ready to dispense next month, and plans to meet with state officials soon to obtain final approvals to open for business.
Patients with qualifying medical conditions - such as terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and Crohn's disease - can apply for identification cards after their condition has been evaluated by a doctor registered with the medical marijuana program. Qualified caregivers also will be issued cards.
Patients may register on the department's Web page at https://njmmp.nj.gov/njmmp/index.html. Patients can call 609-292-0424 for information.
Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use, though selling and using the drug remains a violation of federal law.
About 150 doctors have registered with New Jersey to prescribe the drug. In Burlington County, participating physicians are James Crudele in Moorestown and Edward Tobe in Marlton. In Camden County, they are Mark Angelo of Voorhees, Sherita Latimore Collier of Camden, Marshall Lauer of Collingswood, and Julius Mingroni of Blackwood.
In Gloucester County, they are Daniel Abesh of Sewell, and Peter Corda, Vannette Perkins, and Jeffrey Polcer, all of Williamstown.
"The opening of a patient registry is a crucial and welcome step. . . . This represents the light at the end of the tunnel," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer), a primary sponsor of the medical marijuana law.
A registration card costs $200 and is valid for two years. Patients on assistance programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, will pay $20.