N.J.’s medical marijuana chief douses senator’s pipe dream of legal weed for sale immediately after the election

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Not long after state Sen. Nick Scutari claimed on Tuesday legislators and regulators may “be able to flip the switch and people might be able to get marijuana, legally, right after the vote,” the head of the state medical cannabis program doused that pipe dream with a bucket of cold water.

“(Some dispensaries) literally do not even have the space to accommodate the level of demand that personal-use sales would bring,” said Jeff Brown, who helms the Department of Health’s Medicinal Marijuana Program. “I could say unequivocally that opening up sales even a few months after the election would be a disaster and would really hurt access for patients who need this as medicine. My number one priority is to ensure that the patients have access — that’s going to be our priority first and foremost.”

Since the passage of Jake Honig’s Law, the medical program continues to grow in terms of patients and demand — about 7,000 patients per month on average and nearly 95,000 patients enrolled in total — but the program continues to face supply challenges for just the current patient population due to the small number of operational cultivators and canopy space.

Scutari, in his comments during an interview with NJ Cannabis Insider streamed live on NJ.com’s Facebook page Tuesday, that “(the) currently operating medical cannabis dispensaries would have an opportunity to sell to the general public for people over 21, if they can certify that they have enough product to satisfy their patients that they’re already treating.”

Brown, who also participated in a closed portion of the webinar, tamped down the senator’s suggestion at the time. He said he wants to keep an open dialogue with legislators and make the program’s priorities clear to medical patients and Garden State citizens as a whole.

“Inventories at alternative treatment centers are increasing, too, but it’s uneven,” he said. “We have some that are expanding capacity and then we have others that are simply maintaining and have really no room to expand cultivation in their current footprints.”

For the past six months, Brown said, the medical cannabis program has averaged about only 2,100 pounds in sales per month, rising to nearly 2,500 in September with a similar trend in October. Based on an average of the patient population, patients typically only buy a half-ounce each month, he said.

As of this past Friday, Brown said, there were about 10,000 pounds of medical cannabis in the market — about evenly split between flower and extracts, though flower tends to have higher sales. That means there’s enough medical cannabis to last about four months, given current sales trends and more limited choices for patients.

Part of the challenges dispensaries face, Brown said, is the small indoor canopy. There’s a dozen cultivators in New Jersey, but the average dispensary only has a canopy of

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OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma may settle legal claims with a new ‘public trust’ that would still be dedicated to profit

<span class="caption">Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen announced a settlement between the Justice Department and opioid maker Purdue on Oct. 21.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="https://newsroom.ap.org/detail/USOpioidCrisisPurduePharma/d69562dc33ef441d83f32833f91c4d57/photo?boardId=37be9465fcce45d283d5431cccb20a6a&st=boards&mediaType=audio,photo,video,graphic&sortBy=&dateRange=Anytime&totalCount=36&currentItemNo=2" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP">Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP</a></span>
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen announced a settlement between the Justice Department and opioid maker Purdue on Oct. 21. Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP

Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin and other potentially addictive prescription opioids, has agreed to plead guilty to three felony counts and reached a settlement potentially worth at least US$8.3 billion with the Justice Department.

The deal could clear the way for Purdue to transform from a profit-seeking privately held company into a public trust that serves the public good, as the company has proposed.

But the settlement is subject to the approval of the federal judge overseeing Purdue’s bankruptcy case. And it may not resolve the thousands of lawsuits Purdue faces for its role in creating the opioid crisis. Notably, the attorneys general from 25 states called on the government a week before the Justice Department announced the deal to simply force the sale of the drugmaker to a new owner instead.

I study the history of prescription drugs (and I have served as a paid consultant and expert witness in opioid litigation). Although there are some recent efforts to establish nonprofit drugmakers to help make certain pharmaceuticals more readily available, I know of no historical precedent for a big drugmaker like Purdue becoming a nonprofit public health provider.

But two similarly ambitious efforts to build alternatives to the profit-driven pharmaceutical model during and immediately after World War II suggest the potential limits of how well this arrangement might work.

Antibiotics

Penicillin was discovered in 1928 but did not come into use until World War II. It was the first antibiotic: a genuinely revolutionary class of drugs that vanquished previously incurable infectious illnesses.

Because of penicillin’s importance for the war effort, the federal government played an active role in its development. Federal scientists developed ways to mass-produce it, federal agencies persuaded reluctant pharmaceutical companies to manufacture it and the government’s “penicillin czar” decided which patients would receive the precious drug.

Despite the high stakes and the faith in centralized planning, no one at that time appears to have even considered the possibility of noncommercial or nonprofit development of antibiotics.

As was the case with wartime goods such as rubber and tanks, private companies with federal contracts made penicillin. As was also the case with other wartime goods, the arrangement was an unqualified success. It dramatically increased production, and allocated the antibiotic so as to best serve the war effort.

For penicillin, as with other goods, federal economic controls quickly faded after the war. As the medical historian Scott Podolsky has observed, drugmakers, freed from government restraints, unleashed an avalanche of brand-name antibiotics whose high-powered marketing campaigns encouraged the overuse and misuse of the new medicines.

Interestingly, the Sackler brothers got their start by selling antibiotics. The Sacklers, future owners of Purdue Pharma, were pioneers of medical advertising who abandoned earlier restraints and advised their sales representatives to see physicians as “prey.”

The Veterans Administration and the Public Health Service sought to keep

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