UNION, NJ — The township will soon be home to one of seven medical marijuana dispensaries in the state after plans for the facility were unanimously approved by the Planning Board during a meeting last month.
Compassionate Care Research Institute LLC, operating as Garden State Dispensary, already has a location in Woodbridge and has plans to open a second site on U.S. Route 22 East in Union at the intersection of Monroe Street. It gained the board’s approval Sept 27, and will be the first business to operate a second facility in the state.
No date for the opening of the dispensary was given at the meeting, and Compassionate Care attorney Jeffrey Lehrer, responding to an email from LocalSource on Oct.18, stated that he does not have authority from his client to speak to reporters.
The Union facility will only be used to dispense medical marijuana to patients; cultivation and manufacturing will take place in the Woodbridge location. The New Jersey Department of Health on May 14 issued an approval for the Union facility, which previously housed a furniture store.
The Union Township Committee approved an ordinance allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries within its business and commerce districts Aug. 28. The ordinance does not allow for the manufacture or cultivation of marijuana, or for the retail sale of marijuana for anything other than medical purposes.
“Doctor-prescribed medical marijuana is a benefit to many,” Mayor Suzette Cavadas said in an email to LocalSource on Oct. 17. “We want Union residents who need it to have access to this prescription-required asset.”
In New Jersey, every patient receiving a prescription must have a bona fide relationship with a physician registered with the medical marijuana program, Aaron Epstein, executive vice president of Compassionate Care Research Institute, told the Planning Board.
The dispensary will require patients to have a valid medical marijuana registration card and a second form of identification when meeting with armed security prior to entering the building. Patients with the required identification then either meet with a certified counselor for about a half hour — if they are new — or proceed to the purchase counter.
It’s required that all new patients meet with a counselor to discuss the legality of being a cannabis patient in New Jersey and to conduct a condition and symptom analysis.
“The goal of counseling is to make sure that the patients understand the product so that they can select the correct strain and they can use it safely,” Epstein said.
Along with armed security, the facility will be equipped with motion-detection security cameras, and all deliveries will be made at various times either before or after hours. The exact hours of operation have not yet been set.
“It’s important to recognize the significant benefits of medical marijuana to those who are suffering from certain medical disorders or debilitating conditions,” Lehrer told the board.
Some of these medical disorders or debilitating conditions include, but are not limited to, cancer, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, Lou Gehrig’s disease and migraines.
Epstein said the facility always will have a licensed pharmacist on staff at all times and will carry about 30 different strains of marijuana. Six of those strains will contain high levels of CBD, the nonpsychoactive element to marijuana.
He also stated that opening the Union facility will create about 20 new jobs, for which every employee will undergo fingerprinting and an FBI background check. They will also receive annual training. New Jersey became the 14th state to allow medical marijuana when the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law by former Gov. Jon Corzine in 2010, according to the state Department of Health.
“The state of New Jersey is coming in line with a number of states throughout the country in retrospect to understanding and having compassion for these health issues,” Lehrer said. The other five alternative treatment centers in New Jersey include Breakwater in Cranbury, Compassionate Care Foundation in Egg Harbor Township, Curaleaf in Bellmawr, Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair and Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus.
Compassionate Care has multiple research projects and agreements under way, including research with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and projects based in Arizona and Michigan, according to Epstein.
“There are only six alternative treatment centers in New Jersey and there is a dire need for more,” Lehrer said. “The governor has even asked for more.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on the legalization of recreational marijuana, is pushing for a Senate vote on the matter by the end of the year.
Since taking office in January, Murphy has seen the number of patients in the medical marijuana program double from roughly 17,000 to 34,000, according to a recent press release. The Murphy administration has also added 300 doctors to the program and reduced the wait time for ID cards.
“New Jersey’s program has made incredible strides in expanding access and becoming a compassionate, consumer-friendly service for patients by adding physicians and new medical conditions and seeking applications for another six dispensaries,” Murphy said in a recent press release.