Without fanfare, the NJ Health Dept. reported last week that 1,000 patients are now registered to receive medical marijuana.
It's hardly a milestone.
Due to a shortage of dispensaries and several delays in the state program, only about 130 patients have actually been able to buy cannabis.
Many patients are upset. Medical marijuana was legalized three-and-one-half years ago for compassionate use. Only patients with serious illnesses and diseases, including terminal cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and MS, qualify for its use, but they still cannot get it.
One patient, a former corrections officer, has sued the state for the delays, claiming he is suffering while the state imposes restrictive regulations that he says led to the opening of only one dispensary. That dispensary only sells to North Jersey patients and has said it is overwhelmed by the demand.
Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for sick people. According to ProCon, a non-profit dedicated to data-collection and research on social issues, there were about 1 million marijuana patients nationwide, as of last December, including 4,466 in Rhode Island and 107,666 in Colorado. At that time, New Jersey had 239 registered patients.
There is no break-down on how many have actually been able to purchase cannabis, nationwide, but New Jersey regulations are the strictest in the country.
Earlier this week, the state legislature passed a bill to smooth the way for severely sick children to get cannabis. So far none have gotten it, though it is legal for minors in New Jersey to obtain it. Under current rules, only smokable marijuana, lozenges and lotions are allowed. The parents of children with epilepsy told lawmakers that edible cannabis is easier to administer because it can be mixed into butter.
A two-year-old tot who's been hospitalized 20 times - for seizures that last up to an hour - is on the patient list. She has a state-issued card saying she's entitled to receive cannabis. But she too is waiting.