New Jersey officials setting up the state's new medical marijuana program got a pipeful from people hoping to get one of the six Alternative Treatment Center Licenses that the new law calls for initially.
At a hearing in Trenton, one prospective dealer criticized the proposed rules by saying "anybody would be a fool to apply."
It was a raucous assault on the recently revealed regulations crafted by Dr. Susan Walsh and her staff at the Department of Health and Senior Services.
Some of the loudest criticism was over the requirement that no marijuana may be sold if it has more than 10-percent THC -- the active ingredient in pot.
"We might as well grow hay," said one prospective operator who was dissapointed in the low level of potency.
And Anne Davis, Executive Director of NJ NORML(the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), said "different (medical) conditions require different strains."
She warned that patients in need won't bother.
"I'm hearing patients say they will stick with their illegal market" rather than buy 10% pot, said Davis.
"They're treating everyone as criminals," complained Marianne Bays, who described herself as an underemployed corporate consultant interested in opening an ATC dispensary.
Dr. Walsh, Deputy Commissioner of Public Health Services and the final arbiter on the rules, did promise "This program will change. I'm sure we didn't get it 100% right."
As to the 10% THC standard, Dr. Walsh said she decided on that number based on a blend of research her staff studied.
But she denied a suggestion that she was taking her marching orders from the Administration of republican Governor Chris Christie, who was able to negotiate a 3 month delay in the law.
"Absolutely at no time did the Governor or his staff reach out to me and say 'Sue, this program should not happen.'"
"We're trying to find a balance between access and security," Dr. Walsh said.
She did admit that "tens of thousands" of medically ill people could end up applying to get on the state register that would allow them to buy marijuana legally.
As for a timetable, Dr. Walsh hopes to award the Alternative Treatment Center licenses in January or February, with the possibility of the first medical marijuana being sold by late Spring or early Summer.
"I'm going to call for applications very shortly," she said.
The question is, how many of the hundred plus people who attended the hearing will want to apply.
There's the $20,000 application fee($18,000 refundable if you don't get picked), along with requirements for lockboxes and $1 Million insurance for delivery drivers(there have to be two in each delivery vehicle).
"It appears the way you set this up makes it seem extremely uneconomical for the ATC's," said Jason Cogan, a lawyer who is interested in applying.
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