Status Report on N.J. Pot Dispensaries Demanded

     (CN) - State officials must provide a status report after half of the medical marijuana dispensaries approved in New Jersey remain unopened, a state appeals court ruled.
     New Jersey legalized such dispensaries for patients diagnosed with certain chronic medical conditions four years ago under the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.
     In a lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, a class claimed that the department was delaying implementation of the law. They also called the process for registering medical marijuana confusing and time consuming.
     Three patients named as plaintiffs - Richard Caporusso, Jill Caporusso and Caroline Glock - claimed that the Health Department's deliberate inaction denied them access to legalized outlets for the drug.
     Jeffery Pollack, a physician named plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the process to register patients a "nuisance."
     The trio alleged violations of due process and the Open Public Records Act, but a Mercer County judge transferred the case to the Appellate Division for lack of jurisdiction.
     A three-judge panel of that court noted Monday that three state-approved dispensaries are open for business, but the status of three other dispensaries licensed to grow and sell marijuana is unclear.
     Calling Pollack's version of events "anecdotal," the court said that the complaint failed "to establish plaintiffs' assertions of unnecessary and burdensome regulatory requirements."
     The 35-page opinion also addresses a study conducted by Vanessa Waltz with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey that found doctors are reluctant to recommend medical marijuana to patients because of a perceived ambiguity about the law at the department's website.
     Waltz had no "factual information," however, to back up her claims, according to the ruling.
     "She merely imparts her opinion gathered from unidentified hearsay statements," Judge Marie Lihotz wrote for the appellate panel. "This is not evidential, and is insufficient to support plaintiffs' claim."
     While dismissing the majority of the plaintiffs' claims, the judge agreed that department had not done enough to comply with the law's requirements to report on the three state-approved dispensaries.
     The New Jersey Health Department must send a progress report to the New Jersey Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie on the three offices within 45 days.
     Lithotz found no merit, however, as to claims that the department enacted regulations to delay the Medicinal Medical Marijuana program or that those regulations are unconstitutional.
     There is also no need for the court to appoint a neutral third party to oversee implementation of the program and ensure the Health Department's compliance, according to the ruling.
     "As discussed in our opinion, other than its omission of required progress reports, we do not agree DOH [Department of Health] has ignored its responsibilities or refused to comply with the legislative mandate to implement the MMP [Medicinal Medical Marijuana program]," Lithotz wrote. "The need for a third-party monitor is unfounded."