Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Second N.J. marijuana dispensary opens

EGG HARBOR TWP. - Sitting quietly in her parent's car, 2-year-old Vivian Wilson toyed with her iPad and grew weary during the two-hour drive to a medical marijuana dispensary close to Atlantic City - South Jersey's first.

Opening day at the facility in Egg Harbor Township was Monday, and the state's youngest marijuana patient was among nine people with debilitating illnesses who had appointments to pick up some cannabis.

The child's father, Brian, said "Vivie" perceived the visit only as "a long road trip" from their home in Scotch Plains, in North Jersey. But for him and his wife, Meghan, the day was monumental, tempered by the knowledge that "we still have a long way to go." The couple have been at the forefront of a fight to get sick children access to medical marijuana and a bill passed to allow the drug to be sold in an edible form.

Vivian, who has a rare form of epilepsy marked by frequent, life-threatening seizures, had been approved for a marijuana ID card in February. But until now, her parents' efforts to get her the drug were stymied.

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  • The state's first dispensary, in Montclair, closer to their home, had been overwhelmed with the demand after opening last December. Then, this summer, it ran out of marijuana, leaving most of the 1,300 patients enrolled in the program frustrated and on a waiting list.

    Bill Thomas, CEO of Compassionate Care Foundation, the state's second dispensary, said that he had received numerous letters and calls from patients who constantly asked when it would open. After getting a note from Brian Wilson, he said he found himself "crying at my desk" and then called Wilson to say Vivian would be CCF's first patient.

    Thomas said CCF donated the one ounce of marijuana that Vivian's doctor had recommended for her. Its value was about $400.

    Wilson said he was pleased to finally have the cannabis for his daughter, but he has his work cut out for him. CCF is not yet equipped to produce a cannabis oil that children in Colorado and California have been using to control their seizures. Wilson plans to use a "Magical Butter"-maker that is sold on the Internet, which would reduce the marijuana buds to an oil that Vivian can use. The oil that has produced results for some children in other states is high in CBD, an ingredient that may stop seizures, and low in THC, which causes euphoria.

    Thomas has said that it may take at least a year to grow and produce this special strain for epileptic children.

    Before September, edibles were banned in New Jersey. Wilson lobbied for a bill to change that and confronted Gov. Christie at a campaign stop at a diner, pleading with him to put his misgivings aside so that his daughter might survive her condition.

    Christie later signed the bill, but restricted edibles to children.

    Wilson said that he may also be able to vaporize the cannabis buds, as suggested by CCF. "That would be better than having her smoke it," Wilson said, and there is some anecdotal evidence that it may stop a seizure in progress. He also plans to ask the state Department of Health to test the oil that he derives from the plant so that he can determine the proper dosage. "We're going to have to make the stuff and experiment with it," he said.

    Thomas said CCF decided to schedule only nine appointments Monday so the dispensary staffers could "get our feet wet."

    But as the week goes on, he said, CCF will see 32 patients a day. So far, more than 200 patients have been scheduled, out of 675 who have signed up with the clinic, he said.

    The state legalized medical marijuana nearly four years ago, preliminarily approving six dispensaries to operate statewide. Patients must have one of a dozen debilitating conditions or diseases to qualify and must be approved by a physician.

    A third clinic is expected to open in Woodbridge next month, and a second South Jersey clinic is planned for Bellmawr for next year. A spokesman for the Bellmawr clinic said renovations are underway and its board of trustees and principals are undergoing background checks.

    For patients, the opening of CCF is welcome news. Janice Rael said that her friend Laura Tipps, a former Gloucester County librarian, expects to get a call for an appointment in about three weeks. Rael, Tipps' caregiver, said a CCF staffer told her last week that the dispensary is making appointments with patients in the order in which they enrolled. So far, they have scheduled patients who signed up in January and February, Rael said. Tipps, 50, of Clayton, could not be reached for comment.

    "She is in a lot of pain and is very depressed," Rael said of her friend. "But she's relieved that we have more information now and that she may get [cannabis] by the end of the year."

     


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    Jan Hefler INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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