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Lawsuit could jump-start New Jersey marijuana dispensaries

After Gov. Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, six dispensaries were approved to open in the state, a promising start for medical marijuana advocates and potential patients in New Jersey. But two years later, not one of those centers is even close to opening, and a prominent defense attorney is prepping a lawsuit against the state Health Department for delaying the program. It’s an unconventional case in the realm of commercial litigation, but one that has both sides of the issue fired up.

The lawsuit was announced at a press conference last Wednesday on the Statehouse steps on the second anniversary of Corzine’s signing of the legislation. The attorney heading up the litigation said he hoped it would put an end to the current administration’s “foot-dragging.”

Meanwhile, storefronts converted into dispensaries sit empty, waiting for the state Health Department to issue them a permit. The owner of one of those storefronts says the state told him to build his growing facility once he had a signed lease. That was back in August. Although he and his associates have paid rent on two facilities and invested more than $80,000 in their business, originally intending to open this month, they say they still have no idea when they’ll be issued a permit.

Other business owners still can’t find a place to operate, having been turned down by multiple municipalities not willing to approve a medical marijuana business within their borders. The owners say they plan to sue those municipalities, arguing that every time owners are turned down, the next city is more likely to assume there’s something wrong with the business. A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services simply said the timetable for each center’s opening “has many variables” and that the approval process in each city or town is highly complicated.

Will a lawsuit speed up the process and get the dispensaries off the ground? Only time will tell.

Source: NJ.com, “Lawsuit brewing over N.J. medical marijuana program,” Amy Brittain, Jan. 16, 2012

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