New Jersey's first medical marijuana dispensary has final approval to open in Montclair in the northern part of the state.

 

The owners had hoped to open by early September but faced weeks of setbacks. Now, they will have a relatively small customer base, at least at first.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state intended to mail out 191 medical marijuana identification cards this week to qualified patients, and 134 additional applications are in various stages of registration and approval.

Medical marijuana advocate Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director of the Drug Policy Alliance, expects a modest boost in those numbers soon, especially when South Jersey dispensaries open.

"I think for most patients there wasn't a lot of incentive to get a card and register until there was actually some place that they could get safe and legal access to medical marijuana," Scotti said.

Another advocate for the state's medical marijuana program, Don Pendley, head of the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said doctors need to get more comfortable prescribing the drug before he expects it to become more widely used.

"At least at this early stage, we're seeing a lot of physicians who see a lot of registration and cost roadblocks," Pendley said. "They're sort of holding back from actively engaging with the program."

New Mexico started a medical marijuana program in 2007 with fewer than 600 patients in its first year and a half. Now, with looser restrictions but a much smaller population than New Jersey, the program has enrolled almost 8,000 patients.

The owner of the Montclair dispensary couldn't be reached for comment on when, exactly, it will open, but state officials have said they expect it to be some time this year. 

Five other dispensaries, including one in Egg Harbor Township, are further from opening.