The commissioner of New Jersey Department of Health announced this week that for the first time physicians can register qualified patients for the state's medical marijuana program.
It's a move that got support from Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose face will hang in a place of honor on the wall of the first functioning dispensary in the Garden State.
"At one point we felt that the progression of the program installation was slow," according to Julio Valentin, COO of Greenleaf Compassion, the dispensary in Montclair. "But we understand that Gov. Christie and the state of New Jersey is doing the best they can to cross their T's and dot their I's to make this program as successful as possible."
Valentin, who intends to hang a framed photo of Gov. Christie on one of the walls of the dispensary, says that Christie has given them "the green light" to proceed with developing the program.
Valentin told ABC News he wants the dispensary to look like any other official government building. "I think it is respectful to hang a picture of the governor as well as other governmental officials in the store." Valentine continued, explaining that having a photo of the controversial Republican governor is not intended to be factious. "It is out of respect. We will have our certificates, an American flag and the N.J. state flag hanging inside too."
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, however, isn't as convinced that Christie's intentions in supporting the medical marijuana project are all good. According to him Christie "begrudgingly embraced" the legislation.
St. Pierre believes that Christie is not doing this because he is a supporter; he is doing to for "political pragmatism."
Though the governor seems supportive of medical marijuana, in June he vowed to veto a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Advocates for decriminalization hope that one day Republicans will see their argument from a financial point of view.
"It'll be awesome the amount of money these places will generate," according to St. Pierre.
"The most infamous dispensary in California, Harborside Health Center pulls in $60,000- $70,000 per day in cash sales. That's over 30 million dollars a year in revenue," he said. "There is a lot of money to be generated in these dispensaries. Legislators are beginning to see that money and want to get a piece of it, which is very logical."
St. Pierre hopes that once establishments get going in New Jersey they will set a precedent for other East Coast states. "New Jersey's marijuana program is the antithesis of that in California," St.Pierre said. "Everywhere and every state looks to California and says that is not the model they want to replicate." That is why Christie has made a push for the strictest possible laws.
The newly installed patient registry system allows doctors to go online and electronically sign patients up to participate in the program, allowing them to explore alternative treatments of specified illnesses through means of medicinal marijuana. The qualifying conditions required to receive a med card include terminal illness, cancer, glaucoma, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Six dispensaries have been issued permits by the state but only one, Greenleaf Compassion Center of Montclair, is set to be up and running by the beginning of September.
Though five of the six permitted dispensaries do not yet have storefront locations, the medical marijuana program has made huge strides since New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law by Gov. Jon Corzine more than two years ago. However, the law's implementation was delayed under the Christie administration as the state labored over regulatory details. Christie said that passing the decriminalization bill would be "contrary to the message we are sending" by establishing a structured medical marijuana program.
When asked how he felt about Valentin hanging a picture of the governor in New Jersey's first dispensary, St. Pierre responded, "In my opinion, these permits landed in the hands of political partisans. That man running that dispensary will one day be on the end of a political donation to Christie. Mark my words."