Medical marijuana – Criticizing the cost of cannabis in New Jersey
New Jersey's medical marijuana system is once again being criticized - this time for costs.
"New Jersey has the most expensive medical marijuana in the country. Many of the patients that I speak with say they are paying over $500 an ounce. On top of that the dispensaries, the alternative treatment centers, charge a 7 percent sales tax," said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. "The practical effect is that it prices people out of the program, people just can't afford this."
A report published by the New Jersey Department of Health in 2013 found that patients paid on average $469 an ounce.
Since being signed into law in 2010, the program has faced scrutiny from critics who claim it has been slow to start, confusing and dysfunctional. Three dispensaries serve about 3,800 patients, but critics claim there are tens of thousands more in need of medical marijuana and the program's ongoing issues make it almost impossible for sick patients to get the medicinal pot they need for relief.
Wolski said New Jersey's strict regulations is one of the factors for the high price of medical marijuana.
"The 110 pages of regulations that were put out by the (New Jersey) Health Department when Gov. Christie became governor really treated marijuana like it was a toxic or a nuclear substance rather than a medicine," Wolski said. "These alternative treatment centers are regulated far more strictly than full strength pharmacies are regulated, so the problem is really the overregulation."
Wolski said many patients are low income and may only make $12,000 to $13,000 a year.
"Most of the illegal marijuana that's available on the streets now is running in the $250 to $300 an ounce range," Wolski said.
According to a report published on May 15 by CBSNews, a survey by PriceofWeed.com lists the cost of high quality marijuana in New Jersey at $342.82, about $100 more than what it costs in Colorado.
Patients also have to fund other costs to participate in the program. There's a $200 fee for an ID card that patients need to visit the dispensaries located in Egg Harbor Township, Montclair and Woodbridge. Doctors visits are also required.
"These physicians charge cash for the office visits, and the office visits are typically over a $100. Many physicians require three or four office visits before they're willing to endorse a patient to get an ID card," Wolski said.
When asked why costs for medical marijuana are so high, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Health Department issued a brief statement: "The Alternative Treatment Centers are private businesses. The department does not set or control the price.The department grants permits to the Alternative Treatment Centers to grow and grants them permits to sell and the dispensaries are vetted prior to that, but we don't set the pricing."