I’m probably the healthiest HIV positive person you’ll ever know. My finely tuned immune system is an ongoing, decades-long collaboration with more brilliants doctors and nurses than I can recall and surely more than one man deserves. So part of me feels especially fortified from COVID-19.
But I’m still not leaving the house.
Can you blame me?
There are plenty of people whose terminal illnesses aren’t nearly as well-managed as mine. So when I see pictures of the (hours) long lines at New Jersey’s medical marijuana dispensaries, I shudder. We’re basically looking at a vulnerable population forced out of their homes and into long lines where they wait, sometimes for hours, to pay $500 for an ounce of cannabis.
Long wait times at NJ dispensaries pre-date coronavirus. And with only 8 dispensaries serving the entire states the math is easy on this one. Enrollment in NJ just passed 71,000 mark, roughly the same size as Cherry Hill, NJ’s 14th largest city.
So good luck getting the strain you want!
Tara Sargente is executive director of New Jersey Cannabusiness Association, an enduringly patient-centric cannabis trade outfit in Trenton.
“We need medical marijuana delivery now,” Ms Sargente told InsiderNJ. “In response to these unprecedented times the state has been suspending and adjusting regulations across the board to keep residents safe and healthy under this new normal.”
Ms Sargente reminded InsiderNJ that home delivery is already law in New Jersey per legislation signed by Gov Murphy last July. We’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting on the Department of Health regulations to get things up and running.
“When we wrote Jake Honig’s Law, including delivery was a major concern,” Ms Sargente added. “The current situation puts a spotlight on why delivery is such a vital component of the program. In a perfect world the Commission could develop guidelines at their own pace, but that is not reality and as we’ve been told this is not business as usual.”
With homegrown and cannabis delivery off the menu in NJ, patients have two options: 1) embrace the black market or 2) the bureaucratic hurdles and long lines of compliance.
And what’s worse than a long line? Appointment-only sales. How about May? Does May work for you?
Jessie Gill of Colonia, NJ is often in Trenton urging lawmakers to fix what ails NJ’s program.
“The dispensary I usually go to began selling by appointment only,” Ms Gill explained. “I received an email at 9:07 this morning, saying appointments in April were available. By the time I saw the email at 9:30 am, all the appointments for the month of April were gone.”
That leaves a lot of patients and caregivers out in the cold.
“Should I tell people to put their cancer on hold until after the quarantine,” Ms Gill demanded. “Maybe they can just pause their seizure disorders and hope to get an appointment in May?”
There’s no appetite to revisit the home-grow question right now in Trenton. But what about home delivery?
What’s the hold up?
It was a happy coincidence that, half a lifetime ago, I moved to San Fransisco just months after California voters legalized medical marijuana in November of 1996. I’d heard San Fransisco was a good place to be HIV+ and that was good enough reason to go.
It was easy for me, a young man with a very deadly secret, to find community and fellowship at the Cannabis Cultivators Club, a colossal four-story dispensary prominently perched on Market Street, San Fransisco’s main drag.
Outside, we were society’s wretches, many still covered in lesions and withering away. But inside, audacious and stoned, many of us contemplated longevity for the first time in a long time.
When Cannabis Cultivators Club got raided in April of 1998, a first in American history, I was there when the cops tossed us and padlocked the place.
John Lassiter, 24, said he rushed to the club fearing that “it might be the last chance to say goodbye to everybody.” Lassiter, who said he is HIV-positive, started coming to the club in December (of 1997), shortly after moving here from Washington DC. He said that daily use of marijuana keeps his appetite healthy and helps him keep his weight stable.
“This place also offers intangibles that would never be admissible in a court of law,” he said. “It is a place for really ill people, people with terminal diseases, to escape their loneliness. They come here for a few hours to visit people.”
This has been a long battle for me and surely I sound like a broken record sometimes. Same shit different decade state.
But I’ll risk sounding like a broken record because right now, we’re forcing terminally ill people out of their homes and into overcrowded dispensaries to get their medicine.
That is not a good recipe.
Jackie Cornell was principal deputy commissioner at NJ Department of Health and currently Chief of Policy and Health Innovation at 1906, a Colorado-based cannabis startup.
“Many of NJ’s medical marijuana patients are medically fragile or immunocompromised and facing unprecedented pressures during self isolation,” Ms Cornell told InsiderNJ. “Keeping people in their homes is our greatest tool to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19. Delivery of critical medicinal marijuana is not a convenience, it is a tactic to keep some of NJ’s most vulnerable from contracting the virus.”
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer. He’s quarantined in Cherry Hill working on this prison body.