I was surprised and saddened to see the editorial Wednesday titled “Med marijuana: What’s the deal?” The Asbury Park Press’ editorial board is typically thorough and factually accurate, but in this instance it couldn’t be more off the mark.
While this program appeared to get off to a slow start, we have seen real, and substantial, progress over the past year, particularly the past few months.
The problem right now isn’t the program or the progress. The problem is the Press’ lack of factual followup. The same day the editorial appeared in the Press, an article ran in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Legal for some, pot crops up in N.J.,” highlighting the headway being made in our program.
The same people whom the Press quotes as taking issue with the administration – quotes from months ago – are quoted from the past few days praising the people in the Christie administration and the folks directly running the program. That is downright sloppy – and ultimately unfair to those of us who have broken our butts to get this program on track and moving forward.
One facility run by the Greenleaf center is already growing plants that are now a foot high. They should begin dispensing the much-needed medicine to patients as early as mid-September. A second facility run by the Compassionate Care Foundation hopes to have a crop ready by November. The claim that none of the centers around the state have begun operating is just plain wrong.
The editorial says the Christie administration is at the heart of the delays, yet the Journal article quotes Bill Thomas, CEO of Compassionate Care, as saying, “We have had complete cooperation with the Department of Health. They are helping us.” While these two facilities are moving forward, the other four are “searching or in negotiations for locations,” according to the Department of Health.
In my efforts to move this program forward, I have found the administration to be responsive to fair and legitimate questions or issues every step of the way. John O’Brien, the executive director of the medicinal marijuana program appointed by the governor, and Charlie McKenna, the governor’s chief counsel, have received well-deserved praise from the people legitimately trying to move their operations forward.
My office has reached out to every one of the approved entities. Some have really engaged and some have completely blown off offers of help – – now having only themselves to blame for their lack of progress. But no entity at this point can legitimately blame the administration for a lack of progress.
If all of the approved entities don’t begin to move forward, we will at some point have to consider revoking the approvals of those not moving forward, and reissue those rights to other entities. While the guidelines the Christie administration put in place are strict, it is the high bar set by those guidelines that has given our program here in New Jersey the extremely high level of credibility it has throughout the country. The programs in California and Colorado are complete disasters by comparison. The strict regulations in New Jersey destroy the arguments of anyone fear-mongering or casting aspersions on our program or medical marijuana in general.
We all want our patients suffering from illness and chronic pain to get relief, but we also need to make sure we put the right program in place and administer it thoroughly and carefully, to build credibility with a somewhat skeptical public. The polls show a majority of people favor medical marijuana, but too many folks then turn around and say they don’t want the facilities in their back yard. The comprehensive, clear, consistent and strict design of our program – a design devised by the Christie administration – should allay any reason for fear.