4/4/20 By DAN ULLOA
The clinical cannabis situation in New Jersey has only worsened as the Coronavirus pandemic crisis has gotten dragged on.
One patient said that he had to wait for three hours for service at Breakwater. And because the bathrooms are closed, likely to halt the spread of the disease, this forced him to bring a tent and make-shift toilet to the dispensary to cope with Crohn’s disease while he waited for his medicine.
“They should have at least port-a-johns,” he said. He added that there have been long lines consistently everyday before the staff arrives.
Patients have begun lining up hours before a dispensary opens in hopes of securing their medicine. Many people in wheelchairs were reported waiting. Only two people are allowed at a time. Once you make an order, you cannot change it.
To cope with the crisis, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) previously announced that caregiver fees would be reduced as a way to help. Caregivers can purchase clinical cannabis for patients.
Garden State Dispensary’s two location in Woodbridge and Union Township are operating at reduced hours due to Coronavirus contamination. On their website it says they plan to add more staff to cope with the demand.
This is a serious issue for patients who depend on their medical marijuana to live a fairly normal life.
Many patients are feeling especially anxious due to the Coronavirus and its negative effects, especially on the economy. Thus, using cannabis to cope is logical. But the sheer volume is causing service to decline because it cannot cope.
It has become apparent since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic that drastic policy changes are needed.
Long-term clinical cannabis (or medical marijuana) solutions to address issues many advocates have suggested to deal with the program’s underlying problems have become even more relevant. Specifically, homegrow and home delivery.
Home delivery was authorized in the Jake Honig Act that was signed into law last July. That law authorized the dispensaries to open satellite locations. And while two dispensaries have done so, none have begun home delivery.
And homegrow remains as difficult as ever with Senator Nick Scutari (D-Union), the leading cannabis sponsor in the Senate remaining opposed to it. He said it could help spread the black market.
The black market does not need help spreading. It has been doing fine spreading without homegrow. Forty years of prohibition did not stop it. Nor will prohibiting homegrow.
The problem is that certain authority figures do not want to concede they lost the War on Drugs with regards to cannabis and that trying to stop has led to far more negatives side effects than positive outcomes.
JoAnne Zito, a leader of the most recent homegrow campaign named “Jeff’s Law” after veteran activist Jeff Oakes, said their petition has 935 signatures so far.
“Sadly, nothing could prove our point more than this,” Zito said. “But with this new normal, cannabis deemed essential medicine and likely more pandemic in the future, it’s not something they can deny.”
Zito added she planned to follow up with the Governor’s office on homegrow.
More dispensaries are obviously needed. However, that has been held up by a court case that severely criticized the NJDOH’s handling of the medical marijuana licensing process. And the court case is held up by Coronavirus. Its oral arguments were supposed to be heard last month.
Many Clinical Cannabis Problems
Soon after Governor Phil Murphy was sworn into office and realized that the medical program needed to be expanded. He was able to add qualifying conditions to the program easily which has allowed the program to grow from serving about 17,000 patients to around 73,000 patients from 2018 to 2020.
However, dispensaries have not kept pace with this expansion. Initially there were only five dispensaries operating in New Jersey when Murphy took office. Harmony dispensary in Secaucus open shortly after, having been authorized in the Christie administration.
There are currently nine medical marijuana dispensaries open in New Jersey.
Social Safety Net Severely Strained
The clinical cannabis program is not the only service that has been strained due to Coronavirus.
Workers who have jobs that depend on interacting with customers have largely been laid off. This has caused unemployment to soar. People are saying this will be a deeply felt recession.
Schools have to find work arounds to teach all their lessons online. And what’s worse, food pantries are being strained too as the pandemic crisis continues.
Social Distancing will continue for some time. A prominent activist sought a 4/20 protest permit at the New Jersey Statehouse said on Facebook no permits are being given out.
While many are enjoying the fact that it’s technically “4/20” all month, April 20th will likely not be a day of celebration of cannabis nor a protest advocating for its legalization and normalization.
Perhaps the new cannabis oil fest of 7/10 will be better.
New Jersey is one of the places that has been hit hardest by Coronavirus! Please stay safe and practice social distancing. While difficult, it is the most effective way to stay healthy.