Lawsuit seeks to speed up N.J. medical-marijuana program

Posted: January 24, 2013

Lawyers for two South Jersey medical-marijuana patients are expected to ask a Superior Court judge Thursday to order sweeping changes to make the drug more accessible to those in pain.

Three years after New Jersey's medical-marijuana act became law, only one of a half-dozen planned dispensaries has opened, and 199 doctors statewide can certify patients to buy the drug.

Richard Caporusso of Medford and Caroline Glock of Toms River, who is now deceased, filed a lawsuit last year that accuses the state Health Department of "intentional sabotage" of the program.

Arguments are scheduled for a hearing in the Mercer County Courthouse on an injunction and proposed court orders to dismantle "unconstitutional" medical-marijuana regulations and immediately expedite the opening of more dispensaries.

In their petition, attorneys William H. Buckman of Moorestown and Anne E. Davis of Brick also asked the court to make it easier for doctors to register in the program and for regulations limiting the strength of the drug to be lifted.

Buckman and Davis intend to ask Judge Mary C. Jacobson to appoint the advocacy group Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey to monitor the stalled program.

The Health Department does not discuss litigation, agency spokeswoman Donna Leusner said Wednesday. The plaintiffs' lawyers did not return calls for comment.

The lawsuit, filed in April and amended in October, names the department, Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd, and program director John H. O'Brien Jr., and alleges "egregious, arbitrary, and capricious conduct" in implementing the program.

Glock was terminally ill when the suit was filed. She died in the fall before she could obtain medical marijuana.

A nonprofit organization opened the first dispensary last month in Montclair after a lengthy approval process. Five other nonprofits are in various stages of planning and approval. There are 645 registered patients.

The state should help remove obstacles that have prevented other dispensaries from opening, Caporusso said.

"There's absolutely no reason someone should be driving 21/2 hours one way and 21/2 hours home to pay $1,000 for two ounces of marijuana" the way he did, Caporusso said. "It's a hardship."

His lawyers want the state to deny or approve the permits of the dispensary operators within 30 days. If one is having difficulties, another nonprofit should be given a chance, the lawyers said.

The Attorney General's Office, which represents the Health Department, would not comment. But in its legal response, it said creating the program "from the ground up" was "a daunting task involving medical, legal, and personnel issues; along with other practical concerns."

One-third of U.S. states have medical-marijuana programs. When Gov. Christie inherited the program from his predecessor, Jon S. Corzine, he said he would never have signed it into law. Christie had the regulations tightened, saying he wanted to prevent the drug from getting into the wrong hands.

One regulation limited the potency of the ingredient THC, which produces euphoria, to 10 percent, which some patients say provides ineffective relief. The regulation was unscientific and should be discarded, according to the plaintiffs.


Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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