Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Q&A with NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program Director

NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) Director John O’Brien responded to questions from freedomisgreen.comand clarified some important details about access. Last week the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) announced that Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair is now the only Alternative Treatment Center fully permitted to dispense cannabis in the Garden State. Registered patients also started to receive ID cards.
Medicinal Marijuana Program Questions
1-[FiG] - How do registered patients and caregivers obtain their ID cards?[re:physical cards]
  • [O'Brien] - DOH originally engaged the Alternative Treatment Centers with the prospect of being the centralized distribution point for ID card delivery.  At that time, the ATCs showed interest in being distributors.  However during a recent progress meeting, Greenleaf representatives expressed concerns regarding security at their Montclair dispensary related to ID card distribution.  The department developed an alternative approach using the mail.  The identification cards are being mailed to the patient and caregiver residences through the mail.  All caregivers and patients who had previously registered will have their cards dated effective Oct. 15—the date Greenleaf was issued its permit. The identification cards are good for two years.
2- [FiG] -How many patients and caregivers have completed the registration process to receive an ID card?
  • [O'Brien] -As of close of business on Friday 10/19/12, there are 223 approved patients, 49 patients under review (the review process involves the validation of a patients submitted documents, proof of residency, photo ID, picture and government assistance if applicable) and 82 patients with physician authorization but have not initiated their registration.  The number of potential patients is 354.  There are 16 approved caregivers and 23 caregivers under review for a total of 39 potential caregivers.  Our customer service unit has contacted and is working with each applicant to ensure a timely and successful registration process.
3- [FiG] - Has DOH check[ed] through the list of registered physicians to confirm their participation in the MMP?
  • [O'Brien] - DOH conducts a routine confirmation of registered physician status with the BME for license in good standing and a valid CDS registration.  To date there are 176 physicians registered with the program.  37 have requested to be inactivated.  72 physicians are actively authoring Attending Physician Statement for their patients.
4- [FiG] -Has DOH, MMP or the NJ Board of Medical Examiners sent instructions, information or offered presentations on how to utilize cannabis therapy and/or participate in the MMP? [specifically to physicians]
  • [O'Brien] -The MMP has been in contact with registered physicians and patients via email and phone providing guidance on MMP procedures.  The MMP also provides information on our web site.  The MMP has engaged theDrug Policy Alliance in the development of a resource library of scholarly articles geared toward providing physicians and patient’s information on the use of medical marijuana.  The MMP has also partnered with theMedical Society of New Jersey in preparing and hosting a webinar to educate the states physician population on issues related to the MMP.  Both of these initiatives are in process.
The Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act of New Jersey was signed into law in January 2010. The Medicinal Marijuana Program was created under DOH in 2011 and John H. O’Brien was hired as Director. Some have been put off by his previous job; 26 years with the NJ State Police. But O’Brien has shown earnest commitment to getting the very limited NJ program running for patients.

The fact that O’Brien responded directly to questions via email, rather than NJDOH communication staff, does indicate a more open dialogue between the MMP and the public.

Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. He is a former member of the CMMNJ Board and continues to volunteer. Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com

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