A marijuana-infused lotion is expected to go on sale in New Jersey within about a week. It will be the first cannabis product beyond raw buds and flowers available to registered medical marijuana patients in the state.
The development comes three years after medical marijuana dispensaries began seeking state approval to manufacture a variety of products.
Compassionate Sciences Inc., a dispensary located in an industrial park in Bellmawr, Camden County, obtained permission from the state Health Department on Friday to produce a cannabis lotion and lozenges, according to the dispensary. The lozenges should be ready within about three weeks, the dispensary's news release said.
Cannabis lotions are applied to the skin and the medicine is absorbed, while the lozenges melt in the mouth. The dispensary did not release any details about its new products, and its director and manager could not be reached for comment this week.
The marijuana oils that parents of sick children have lobbied for since 2013 have not yet been approved for sale. Compassionate Sciences' application to produce such oils, which are normally added to food, is "pending submission of additional manufacturing protocols," Donna Leusner, a Health Department spokeswoman, said in an email this week. She declined to elaborate.
Parents have pointed to widely publicized stories in other states that link cannabis oil to the reduction of potentially life-threatening seizures. The smokable cannabis available in New Jersey is not appropriate for young children, and the lozenges could pose a choking risk, parents have said.
After the Bellmawr dispensary applied to manufacture the cannabis oils about six months ago, the operators said they anticipated approval within a few weeks.
In a news release posted on the dispensary's Facebook page, Webster B. Todd Jr., the chairman of the dispensary's board of trustees, focused on the approval of the lozenges and lotion.
He said the board "has been dedicated to providing our patients with the highest standard of care, which is why we have invested so heavily in the technology to manufacture these new products."
Todd, brother of former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman, also thanked the state for approving the products and said the board "will continue exploring innovative new ways to provide pharmaceutical-grade quality care."
In contrast to New Jersey's six-year-old medical-marijuana law, Pennsylvania's version, passed in the spring, allows the sale of cannabis oils, pills, and lotions, but bans raw cannabis. New York allows cannabis oils, gelcaps, and drops. In New Jersey, the 2010 law names raw cannabis, lozenges, and topicals, such as lotions, as the only permissible products.
In 2013, Republican Gov. Christie reluctantly signed a bill to add edibles, including oils, after the father of Vivian Wilson, a 2-year-old suffering from severe seizures, begged him to approve it. Christie initially said he did not want to "expand the program" because he feared people without medical issues might obtain marijuana. Later he agreed to approve the bill but imposed a condition that the edibles would be available only to children.
Patients and their advocates criticized the restriction, saying it ignored the needs of the elderly and other patients who cannot smoke.
After the law went into effect in the fall of 2013, three of the state's five dispensaries, including Bellmawr, applied for approval to manufacture the oils. Two of the dispensaries dropped their plans because of delays in obtaining state approvals.
Soon after Compassionate Sciences opened last October, its operators said they planned to produce marijuana oils and other products. In April, the dispensary operator reported that the Health Department granted approval to construct a manufacturing room to produce a marijuana syrup for sick children, along with the lozenges and lotions that were recently approved.
"We're already retrofitted and have purchased some of the equipment," Michael Nelson, general manager of PalliaTech, the operator, said in April and added that he expected approval within a few weeks.
The other four dispensaries in the state are not currently pursuing applications to manufacture oils, lozenges, or topicals, Leusner said.
The lozenges may be sold to both adults and children. They are not considered edibles because they are absorbed, not digested.
Leusner said Compassionate Sciences would be the only dispensary permitted to sell the new products to patients at this time. The products may have a content of 10 percent or less THC, the ingredient in cannabis that scientists say produces euphoria, she said. Some patients say they have found the THC in their medicine also helps control certain symptoms, stems acute pain, and helps them cope with various ailments.
Nearly 9,000 patients are registered with the marijuana program in New Jersey. Pennsylvania's program is not expected to begin until next year or later.