Opening of First New Jersey Marijuana Dispensary Pushed Back as Owners Await Local Approval

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It’s been two years and nine months since New Jersey passed a measure legalizing the use of medical marijuana, becoming the 14th state in the nation to do so. And it’ll be at least a few more weeks – if not longer – before the first medical cannabis dispensary opens in the Garden State.

Greenleaf Alternative Treatment Center planned to open its doors in Montclair and begin serving patients by the end of September. But the dispensary will have to push back the date (once again) because it has not yet received a certificate of occupancy from local officials.

It marks yet another delay for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, which has muddled through various fits and starts since it was created in 2010. The state has set and then failed to meet numerous deadlines, raising and then dashing hopes that dispensaries would open.

Last year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put the program on ice as he waited for more guidance from the federal government. After deciding to move forward with the program and lifting the hold last summer, Christie said the state would move forward as quickly as possible with the program.

Yet now, more than a year later, not one dispensary has opened in New Jersey. The state has continually dragged its feet, and would-be dispensary operators have run into resistance on various levels. The MMJ program is off to a slow start in another way as well: Just 239 patients have registered for medical marijuana cards so far, far lower than the initial numbers in other states.

Greenleaf is the only dispensary that’s even close to opening. Five others have been approved to move forward with the permitting process, but most of them are still trying to find a suitable location and going through other necessary steps.

The state Department of Health issued a press release about the Greenleaf delay saying it remains committed to the medical marijuana program.

“Once this matter is resolved, the Department of Health can perform its final inspection and if Greenleaf has satisfied all of the necessary requirements a permit will be issued to begin distribution of medicinal marijuana to those individuals who have qualified for the program,” the agency said. “In order to ensure the state is doing all that it can to expedite the opening of the center, representatives from the Department of Health’s Medicinal Marijuana Program will be at Greenleaf working with them every day so they are ready for their final inspection and able to receive a state permit to dispense once their issues with Montclair are resolved.”

Time will tell if the health department is serious about speeding up the process or just paying lip service to increasingly agitated patients, dispensary applicants and growers.