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New Jersey's busiest marijuana dispensary is now the biggest on the East Coast

New Jersey's newest medical marijuana dispensary, Curaleaf, is the largest on the East Coast. It opened this month in Bellmawr, Camden County. Curaleaf is designed to handle 1,000 patients a day, as the state dispensaries struggle to handle an influx of new patients now that the medical marijuana program has been expanded and opened up to more patients.

Curaleaf New Jersey dispensary in Bellmawr, N.J.
Curaleaf New Jersey dispensary in Bellmawr, N.J.Read moreJan Hefler/Staff

The medical marijuana dispensary that opened inside a former T-shirt factory in Bellmawr three years ago has moved into a modern new space across the street and is now the largest retail purveyor of cannabis on the East Coast.

The 6,150-square-foot Curaleaf dispensary opened this month in an industrial park in Camden County, about 10 miles south of Philadelphia. The new facility is designed to handle 1,000 patients a day, said Jordan Isenstadt, a spokesman for PalliaTech, the company that owns Curaleaf.

The dispensary previously was called the Compassionate Sciences Alternative Treatment Center, but the Massachusetts-based PalliaTech changed its name to Curaleaf as part of a rebranding, Isenstadt said. PalliaTech operates dispensaries and cultivation centers in 11 states across the country and is planning to open a Curaleaf dispensary in Pennsylvania this fall.

In New Jersey, Curaleaf has the distinction of being the busiest among the state's five medical marijuana dispensaries and it offers the most cannabis strains, according to a report issued by the state Department of Health this week.

The health department said in its annual medical marijuana report that Curaleaf doubled its patient number to 6,358,  dispensed 2,300 pounds of cannabis, completed more than 76,000 transactions and offered 30 strains in 2017.  It served nearly three times as many patients as South Jersey's other dispensary, the Compassionate Care Foundation, in Atlantic County.

The state's three other dispensaries also had fewer patients and less business than Curaleaf, with the second most popular facility, Garden State Dispensary, in Woodbridge, trailing by more than 2,000 clients.

Curaleaf is the first of several new dispensary locations that are expected to open as a result of Gov. Murphy's medical marijuana expansion plans.  Murphy, a Democrat who was elected in November on a cannabis friendly platform, opened up the medical program to more patients by adding chronic pain and anxiety to the list of qualifying ailments in March.

Soon after, the Health Department reported that 100 new patients were signing up each day, on average.  Currently, there are about 21,000 registered patients, including 5,000 who enrolled just this year.

"Our expansion into a larger dispensary mirrors not only Curaleaf's growth but also the progression of medical marijuana access within the state," said George Schidlovsky, Curaleaf New Jersey's president, in a statement.  He declined further comment.

The new facility is located in a reconstructed factory that previously produced precision metals.  A dozen patients sat in the modern, spacious waiting room on Wednesday afternoon as several employees checked records and ushered the patients into consultation rooms in the back.

"I love it.  It's fantastic," said Keith Chase, 62, a patient who visited the facility that day.  "It looks like a dispensary in Colorado — big and clean.  They just need more product." The Kingston, Middlesex County resident said he uses cannabis because it keeps him from returning to years of addiction to opioids prescribed for a back injury.

As the patient numbers increase and the demand for certain strains peaks, patients have complained recently of shortages in popular strains that have brought them relief from their ailments.

Mark Ebert, 58, of Turnersville, said his favorite strain, Girl Scout Cookies, eases the anxiety he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but the dispensary often runs out of it.  The influx of new patients have also created lines that sometimes caused waits that lasted one hour and 10 minutes, he said.

Earlier this month, a week before the new dispensary opened, he said he waited 40 minutes to get in the door.  "I was here when it opened up, but the line was crazy," he said.  Ebert said he sees improvement with the new facility and the new parking lot and hopes that the old lines don't reappear.

Schidlovsky said Curaleaf New Jersey employs 60 people and is expanding its cultivation area across the street by 16,000 square feet.  The facility also manufactures cannabis lozenges, oils, and topical creams.

Though Gov. Murphy has said he would support a bill legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use, no such bill has come up for a vote in the legislature.  If such a measure passes — and Murphy says he is optimistic that one will — lawmakers have proposed using the existing medical marijuana dispensaries and new satellite facilities to launch the program.

Currently, only six dispensaries are licensed in the state, including one that has not yet opened.  At least two other dispensaries have filed applications to open satellite dispensaries and to expand their cultivation sites, as Curaleaf did soon after Murphy announced the expansion changes.