36 Months After Medical Marijuana Became Law In NJ, 1,000 Patients Languish On Weed Waiting Lists


DAILY BEAST: Most nights, 52-year-old Marta Portuguez wakes up crying from pain—jolted out of sleep by horrifying muscle spasms that occur without warning. “I cry my eyes out,” she tells The Daily Beast. “It feels like someone is chopping up my legs with a machete, or burning them with a torch from the inside out.” Diagnosed with 11 illnesses over the course of nine years—including severe fibromyalgia and gastroparesis—the former Comcast executive and mother of six now knows only two levels of pain: excruciating and unbearable. One of more than a thousand on the waiting list at New Jersey’s sole legal dispensary for medical marijuana—Greenleaf Compassion Center—her patience is wearing thin. “I keep waiting for them to call,” she says. “I have my card, I’m ready to go. I passed.” Exhausted from the chronic pain that pulsates through her body day and night, she chokes up on the phone. “This is my body. I should be able to obtain any medicine that I deem okay for me. This is not the government’s right to decide!” Her audible anger is telling: Greenleaf won’t be calling anytime soon. There simply isn’t enough medical marijuana to go around in New Jersey—and she knows it. Three years after former Gov. Jon Corzine made medical cannabis legal, New Jersey’s pot program is a mess. The ‘Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act’ of 2010 represented a triumphant culmination of five-year revolution to legalize medical marijuana. Led by groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and patients themselves like 40-year old HIV-positive political activist Jay Lassiter, New Jersey joined a list of states including California and Colorado to legalize. Upon hearing the news that the bill had passed in 2010, like many suffering with chronic pain, Portuguez was euphoric. “It was my light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “I was so excited. Scheduled to take effect six months after passing in January 2010, the bill allocated three months to New Jersey’s Department of Health to sort out regulations and licensing. In other words, to pick the nonprofits that would host the dispensaries. Six were chosen. Spirits were high. “We were sure it wouldn’t be long,” Lassiter says. “How wrong we were.” Thirty-six months later, there is one medical marijuana dispensary in New Jersey—one. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: REEFER MADNESS: NJ Throws Man With MS In Jail For 5 Years For Growing Medical Marijuana

PREVIOUSLY:  REEFER SADNESS: Diane Riportella, NJ Medical Marijuana Activist, Dies Of ALS Waiting For Her Prescription To Be Filled

PHAWKER: How is it that the black market has been efficiently distributing marijuana hundreds of millions of recreational users since the dawn of the 20th Century and continues to do so to this day, but the state of New Jersey still can’t get prescription pot into the hands of more than a 1,000 state-approved medical marijuana patients three years after the law went into effect?  Diane Riportella’s greatest fear was that she’d die before the law she worked so bravely to get passed would become a reality and sadly enough that’s exactly what happened. The Christie administration should hold their heads high: In what has become their standard operating procedure of prioritizing public posturing over private suffering — and in direct and flagrant violation of the law — they managed to exponentially increase the misery index of a paraplegic woman’s miserable death. Well played, Fatman. May the black angels of karma be just a merciless with you, Governor, when you’re recovering from your inevitable quadruple bypass.