Nearly three years after New Jersey legalized medical marijuana, the state's first dispensary will open Thursday.

Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd confirmed Wednesday that Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, Essex County, would begin seeing patients by appointment only.

The first 20 people, out of 338 who have registered for the drug, will be seen Thursday, according to Greenleaf.

"The department is gratified that qualified patients have access to medicinal marijuana in an appropriate setting," O'Dowd said in an e-mail. "We will be present for the opening tomorrow and will continue to monitor Greenleaf."

"It's about time. It's like a little bit of an early Christmas gift for people in New Jersey who are suffering," Jay Lassiter, a Cherry Hill political consultant, who has suffered from HIV for more than 20 years, said Wednesday.

Under state law, patients are limited to two ounces of marijuana per month, but Greenleaf said it initially would sell a half-ounce to each person, to accommodate all who registered. Greenleaf got its license to operate in October, but did not get final approval of the drug it harvested until early last month. Five other dispensaries, including one in Egg Harbor, Atlantic County, have been preliminarily approved by the state.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.