Patient Sues NJ Over Medical Pot Delays

Suit says Gov. Christie's administration is implementing rules for medical marijuana that are "designed with the intent'' to interfere with the program

A patient sued New Jersey officials Wednesday over delays in starting the state's legalized medical marijuana program.

Richard Caporusso says in a lawsuit that Gov. Chris Christie's administration has been implementing rules for medical marijuana that are "designed with the intent'' to interfere with the program. He's calling for courts to take over the program or force the state to speed up implementation.

Caporusso's doctor, Jeffrey S. Pollack, joined him as a plaintiff on behalf of other would-be medical marijuana patients and their doctors.

A law to allow medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions was signed in January 2010 in one of Jon Corzine's last acts as governor. Implementing the program was left to the administration of Christie, who says he believes marijuana may help certain patients but has long harbored doubts about the specifics of New Jersey's law, which is considered the most stringent in the nation.

Since he took office, there have been delays in setting up the regulations for the industry. Rules that were initially to be in place by July 2010 were finally approved in December 2011.

And the rules his administration put in place are not popular with advocates for medical marijuana, who say the illegal drug can alleviate pain and nausea associated with conditions including glaucoma, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and other health problems.

The rules are the only ones among the 16 states that have a law to allow medical marijuana to limit its potency.

The six nonprofit alternative treatment centers selected last year by the state to grow and sell pot to qualifying patients have struggled to find towns willing to accept them. So far, only two have announced local approvals, while others have been met with zoning denials.

Caporusso, of Medford, is represented by William Buckman, one of New Jersey's most prominent civil rights lawyers; and Anne M. Davis, an expert on the law and business of medical marijuana.

Caporusso's medical condition is not specified in the lawsuit, and Davis said she would not disclose it other than to say that he has two conditions that would qualify him under New Jersey's law.

He claims in the lawsuit that the prescription drugs he has taken to deal with his symptoms have caused liver failure.

Neither the state Health Department nor the attorney general's office would comment on the claims in the lawsuit. But Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said the state is making strides toward allowing legal sales.

She said Montclair-based Greenleaf Compassionate Center may soon get a temporary permit to become the first New Jersey alternative treatment center to begin growing pot. Greenleaf and Compassionate Care Foundation of Egg Harbor have applied for their final permits.

Leusner said the state would also soon make public its registry of 109 physicians who say they would be willing to recommend medical marijuana to patients who could benefit from it _ and to allow patients to begin registering, too.

But Davis said that even if one or two dispensaries can be running, it won't make up for time lost and the deep restrictions. She said she also fears that some of the dispensaries could linger indefinitely without being fully approved to start operating _ or booted from the program and replaced.

"They all should have been approved or denied,'' she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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