Princeton nonprofit selected as NJ medical marijuana grower
By Meir Rinde
March 22, 2011
A Princeton-based nonprofit is one of just six organizations selected by the state health department to legally grow and sell medicinal marijuana for use by patients with debilitating medical conditions.
The recently formed Compassionate Care Foundation, with offices in Princeton, won the right to set up a so-called alternative treatment center or ATC in the Camden County borough of Bellmawr, the Department of Health and Senior Services announced yesterday.
William Thomas, a medical researcher who is a board member for the organization, said they expect to be able to start a cultivation site and a separate dispensary by August.
“We found a suitable building in Bellmawr, but there’s a long process of going through zoning and getting community support,” Thomas said. “We have not completed that process yet. It may be in Bellmawr, it may be somewhere else.”
The New Jersey Compassionate Use Marijuana Act requires the health department to license two alternative treatment centers each in the north, central and southern parts of the state, for a total of six. The centers must be incorporated as nonprofit agencies.
The state released the winning applicants today despite the Legislature’s intent to repeal the program rules drafted by the Christie administration. The law’s Senate sponsors said they would rather overturn the proposed rules and start over, delaying the start of the program, than allow such restrictive regulations to move forward.
Patient advocates argue restrictive rules on which patients may use medicinal cannabis, the small number of doctors who have signed up to prescribe the drug and the limited number of centers could keep the organizations from succeeding financially and patients from being able to obtain the marijuana.
“It’s a risk that people will not use the products that are manufactured,” Thomas said. “We’re now going to work with the doctors to have them understand how to use the product and when to recommend it to a patient.”
Like other groups that want to operate ATCs, Thomas set up a nonprofit with several other medical industry insiders, including Pennington resident David Knowlton, a former health department deputy commissioner who heads the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute in Ewing.
The selected organizations are required to make three products: a topical lotion, a lozenge and an “organic product” which is heated and inhaled as water vapor, Thomas said. The marijuana will be grown in a highly secure and sterile manufacturing environment, he said.
“We treat this as a pharmaceutical manufacturing process,” he said. “It’s not agriculture. It’s very much akin to penicillin or aspirin.”
Thomas said the manufacturing site and the dispensary will cost $10 million to $15 million to build and result in 140 new jobs. The organization does not have an opinion on legalizing marijuana for recreational use but believes cannabis-based medicines are a valuable form of non-addictive pain relief, he said.
“We’re basically decriminalizing the activity of cancer patients who are seeking it,” he said. “We were in one meeting where people were telling us they were sending basically their teenage kids to buy it because someone in their family is dying from cancer. Who knows what they’re buying?”
The five other selected nonprofits have said they will locate their treatment centers in Manalapan, Monmouth County; New Brunswick, Middlesex County; somewhere in either Burlington or Camden County; Secaucus, Hudson County; and Montclair, Essex County.
The Star-Ledger contributed to this report.
Article also available on NJ.com.
Copyright © The Times of Trenton 2011