Huddled in the hot sun outside the Compassionate Sciences dispensary in South Jersey, a group of medical marijuana patients clutched bags that contained cannabis-infused oils they had just purchased.
They began a lively debate on the best way to use the new products, though dispensary staff had told them Friday morning that the oil was recommended as a topical, to be applied to the skin and absorbed.
The sale of the oil Friday at the Bellmawr dispensary marked the first time in New Jersey that a manufactured cannabis product was offered to registered medical marijuana patients in the state, six years after the program was started. Also sold were jars of cannabis cocoa butter lotion.
"I'm confused. They wouldn't tell me if I could put this in my mouth," said Sonia Armstrong, a Somerdale resident with lung cancer, who takes cannabis to stimulate her appetite and calm her anxieties. For her, a topical would not be effective, and cannabis oils are often used in other ways.
The other four in the group said they planned to vaporize it, despite the advice of the Compassionate Sciences dispensary.
A few hours later, Jay Lassiter, a patient and marijuana activist from Cherry Hill who had been part of the group, said he had vaporized it and found it "surprisingly effective." He said he took "the "tiniest, teenyist puff" and then put the vaporizer away. Lassiter uses marijuana to help treat symptoms of HIV.
The label on the oil, dispensed in a dosing syringe, said it contained 50 percent THC, the ingredient that triggers euphoria, and 5 percent CBD, a cannabinoid that helps with seizures and pain.
Of the five dispensaries operating in New Jersey, only Compassionate Sciences is approved to sell the new products.
The price for both was $75 for 300 milligrams, the equivalent of an eighth of an ounce. Raw cannabis buds go for about $60 for an eighth of an ounce, or about $480 an ounce, but are less concentrated.
Harriet Berkey, a retired nurse-anesthetist from Marlton, said she also planned to vaporize the oil to control tremors she experiences from multiple sclerosis. She has vaporized cannabis buds, but looks forward to using the oil because, she said, "it's cleaner and it's supposed to last longer."
Peter Rosenfeld, a retired aerospace engineer from Collingswood who has severe cervical spinal degradation, makes his own oils from cannabis buds. He said it is usually effective for six hours, as opposed to three hours when raw cannabis is inhaled. He bought the cannabis lotion and later said that he rubbed it on his neck to relieve pain. "It seemed to work well for the cramping and strain," he said.
The dispensary has declined to comment on the products beyond a news release that said the items are "pharmaceutical-grade products" manufactured using a "highly sophisticated cannabinoid extraction method."
On Friday, Gretchen McCarthy, the dispensary manager, sent a text saying, "This is an exciting day for the patients of New Jersey. We look forward to educating the patients throughout the state to ensure they are learning about these new products and how they can help in alleviating their symptoms."
Dispensary staff said there was a line waiting for the doors to open Friday and about 50 patients had gone through in the first couple of hours.
"It's a huge step forward, but it's where we should have been two years ago," said Tina DeSilveo, who has been concocting her own oils from raw marijuana buds for at least that long for her daughter, Jenna, 16, who suffers from seizures.
DeSilveo, of Franklinville, has obtained smokable marijuana from the dispensary but had to convert it and add it to yogurt so her child could consume it. At least a dozen other New Jersey parents have reported doing the same thing.
DeSilveo said that she planned to use the oils as a soothing rub for Jenna and would also mix it into her food. "I think it can be consumed orally or topically," she said, adding that the oils she has made have markedly reduced Jenna's seizures.
Under the New Jersey medical marijuana law adopted in 2010, topicals may be sold to adults and children. A 2013 law opened the door to edibles, including oils, after DeSilveo and other parents lobbied lawmakers and Gov. Christie to add the product to the list. That law, however, restricts edibles to children, a condition Christie imposed.
Last week, a state health department spokesperson said the dispensary has obtained approvals for topicals and lotions, but not edibles.
Rosenfeld said he also thinks the oils can be consumed. He noted they are made of food-grade coconut oil and vegetable glycerin, according to literature the dispensary provided him.