Gov. Christie’s Pot Program Delay is Sabotage

Mar 24, 2012

Gov. Chris Christie and the state health depart­ment have inten­tion­ally delayed New Jersey’s med­ical mar­i­juana pro­gram in an effort to sab­o­tage it, the CEO of one of the state’s six med­ical mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries claims in a let­ter sent this week to Christie’s office. And now, he’s ready to quit. “I would like to with­draw from the pro­gram,” Joe Stevens, the head of Green­leaf Com­pas­sion Cen­ter in Mont­clair, said dur­ing an inter­view with The Star-Ledger Thurs­day. Health depart­ment offi­cials have bro­ken sev­eral promises to Green­leaf, Stevens claims, all while his group has incurred $170,000 in costs with no idea of when it can open for busi­ness. “I can no longer explain away these bro­ken promises and stay quiet while Green­leaf con­tin­ues to hem­or­rhage vital funds on a failed pro­gram,” he wrote in his let­ter. Stevens said health depart­ment offi­cials told him Green­leaf could start grow­ing mar­i­juana this month, with the issuance of a tem­po­rary per­mit, and that the group was on track to get a final per­mit in July. Now, he says, those assur­ances have been taken back. “Again, I was fool­ish,” Stevens said, adding that he doubts the pro­gram will ever be run­ning as long as Christie is in office. Green­leaf may con­sider “resort­ing to the legal process,” accord­ing to the let­ter. The shake-up at Green­leaf could deliver a blow to the state’s already trou­bled pro­gram. More than two years after the Com­pas­sion­ate Use Med­ical Mar­i­juana Act was signed into law, not one cen­ter has been launched. Mean­while thou­sands of patients with qual­i­fy­ing con­di­tions, such as Mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and can­cer, are still wait­ing for the relief the drug might bring them While some of the other cen­ters have strug­gled for var­i­ous rea­sons — includ­ing, most recently, oppo­si­tion from munic­i­pal­i­ties who don’t want them, Green­leaf was con­sid­ered the leader among the group. Stevens was praised for his swift deal with Mont­clair, becom­ing the first group to secure a site. Now, the group has nearly com­pleted work on its grow site and dis­pen­sary. Speak­ing March 1 on Steve Adubato’s show on NJTV, Christie said the program’s delays are because of munic­i­pal­i­ties, not his admin­is­tra­tion. “The prob­lem we’re hav­ing now is some­thing I can’t fix,” he said, adding that he does sup­port the pro­gram. “If indi­vid­ual munic­i­pal­i­ties do not want an alter­na­tive treat­ment cen­ter in their town, I can­not force them to take one.” Donna Leusner, the spokes­woman for the Depart­ment of Health and Senior Ser­vices, issued a state­ment Thurs­day in response to Greenleaf’s alle­ga­tions. “The let­ter is fac­tu­ally incor­rect,” she wrote. “Green­leaf sub­mit­ted its appli­ca­tion for a per­mit and has been asked for addi­tional infor­ma­tion, which we have yet to receive. Its appli­ca­tion is still under review so it is pre­ma­ture to con­sider issu­ing a per­mit.” If Stevens walks away, it wouldn’t mean the end for Green­leaf. The chief oper­at­ing offi­cer, Julio Valentin Jr., said he and another part­ner are try­ing to change Stevens’ mind but, if that fails, they will plan to take over the group. When it comes to Stevens’ frus­tra­tions, Valentin says he’s empa­thetic. “We’ve put out tens of thou­sands of dol­lars every month with the hopes that the pro­gram could be up and run­ning,” he said. “We based our move for­ward with promises that were made but not kept, but we also under­stand that these things hap­pen. We can’t go on a hand­shake. Those days are gone.” As the build-out of the facil­i­ties pro­gressed, Stevens said he was work­ing off a ver­bal promise that his group could start grow­ing mar­i­juana this month. That promise, he said, was made and bro­ken by John O’Brien Jr., a retired State Police lieu­tenant who was hired in Novem­ber by Christie to run the pro­gram. Leusner, the spokes­woman for the health depart­ment, did not make O’Brien avail­able for com­ment Thurs­day. Dur­ing his inter­view with The Star-Ledger , Stevens said he sup­ports O’Brien and believes he has the right inten­tions. But recently, Stevens said com­mu­ni­ca­tions have bro­ken down. In the six-page let­ter to the gov­er­nor, Stevens presents his ver­sion of a time­line of key events from Sep­tem­ber until last week. Green­leaf signed leases for the dis­pen­sary and grow site in Sep­tem­ber, with the goal of start­ing oper­a­tions by the end of 2011. In Decem­ber, Green­leaf offi­cials sub­mit­ted paper­work required after the health depart­ment imple­mented a more rig­or­ous back­ground­ing pro­ce­dure, accord­ing to the let­ter. To his knowl­edge, Stevens said, the back­ground­ing inves­ti­ga­tion is still not com­pleted. “The indi­vid­u­als respon­si­ble for con­duct­ing the inves­ti­ga­tions have admit­ted that the DHSS is ‘mak­ing things up as they go along” through­out sub­se­quent requests for addi­tional infor­ma­tion,” Stevens said in the let­ter. Dur­ing O’Brien’s visit to Greenleaf’s cul­ti­va­tion site in Jan­u­ary, Stevens said he pre­sented the idea of a pre­lim­i­nary per­mit that would allow the group to start grow­ing mar­i­juana before the final per­mits were issued. In Feb­ru­ary, Stevens said O’Brien told him in a phone con­ver­sa­tion that he had got­ten approval for the pre­lim­i­nary per­mit, as long as he agreed to cer­tain con­di­tions, such as final site inspec­tion and an agree­ment for an open­ing date. Just last week, Stevens said O’Brien retracted his promise about the pre­lim­i­nary per­mit. Green­leaf offi­cials and the health depart­ment have had some dis­agree­ments about secu­rity issues, Stevens wrote in his let­ter. The group was asked to install secu­rity cam­eras and post a secu­rity guard in a “nearby alley­way in Mont­clair,” sev­eral build­ings down from the dis­pen­sary. Stevens said his group objected because the alley­way “is not under our con­trol and is pre­sum­ably pub­lic prop­erty.” The other dis­agree­ment involved debate of adding a GPS unit dur­ing the trans­porta­tion of mar­i­juana from the grow site to the dis­pen­sary. Stevens objected, he said, because the GPS unit could be hacked and make the vehi­cle a “sit­ting duck” for criminals.

687de9ebablarge.jpg 150x99 Gov. Christie’s Pot Program Delay is Sabotage

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Gov. Christie’s Pot Pro­gram Delay is Sabotage

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