Burlco man sues New Jersey officials over medical marijuana delays

Posted: April 05, 2012

A Medford man who suffers from two debilitating health conditions sued New Jersey officials on Wednesday, charging that they have deliberately created delays in implementing the state's medical marijuana program.

Richard Caporusso filed a complaint against the state Department of Health and Senior Services, agency commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd, and program director John H. O'Brien Jr. for failing to meet deadlines contained in the two-year-old law.

Caporusso's wife, Jill, and his physician, internist Jeffrey S. Pollack, who practices in Mays Landing, joined the suit. They are seeking court orders to replace O'Dowd and to expedite the launch of the marijuana treatment centers. The suit, which also seeks monetary damages, was filed on behalf of all seriously ill patients who need marijuana treatment, according to the plaintiffs.

"If there's a medicine out there that can help people and prevent people from becoming drastically sick, it should be available," Caporusso said in an interview with The Inquirer.

"It's legal here in New Jersey, and I just feel we're being kept away from it because of political nonsense," he said.

Though he is not named in the suit, Caporusso said he believes Gov. Christie has created obstacles to implementing the program, which he has publicly opposed.

"This obviously was pushed through in the eleventh hour of [Gov. Jon S.] Corzine's administration," Caporusso said. "But regardless of Chris Christie's stance on it, he's making sick people suffer."

Christie's spokesman could not be reached for comment. The governor has said that it is up to towns and their residents to decide whether they want medical marijuana dispensaries in their neighborhoods. Two townships, Egg Harbor and Montclair, have given their approval.

Christie has said he might veto a proposed bill that would require towns to approve facilities that meet zoning and planning codes.

A spokeswoman for the health department said Wednesday that the agency had not been officially notified of the lawsuit.

None of the six nonprofit groups preliminarily approved a year ago to run marijuana treatment centers have received final state approval. The spokeswoman said one may soon be allowed to grow cannabis.

New Jersey is among 16 states to pass legislation allowing medicinal marijuana. The law intended the program to be launched six months after the measure was signed in January 2010. The state also has yet to create the required registry of doctors who may prescribe the drug.

Caporusso, who said he is in his 30s, declined to name his ailments, but he said they qualify for marijuana treatment under the law. The drug has been approved for patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, glaucoma, and several other conditions.

Eighteen months ago, Caporusso, who is the father of a toddler, said he spent two weeks in a hospital's intensive-care unit after doctors prescribed a cocktail of painkillers, including high doses of acetaminophen, that "shredded my stomach and my liver" and "caused extensive damage."

Had he been able to use marijuana, he wouldn't have come so close "to the grave," he said. Caporusso said state-employed doctors who supervise worker compensation patients prescribed the drugs.

Caporusso is represented by Anne E. Davis, a Brick attorney who handles medical marijuana cases, and Bill Buckman, a Moorestown civil rights lawyer.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-8661 or jhefler@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "BurlCo Buzz," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/