Secrecy hangs over Montclair’s state-sanctioned marijuana center

greenleaf hbtv hemp beach tvThe sidewalk view of the Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair — the only medical marijuana dispensary to open in the state so far — is less intimidating than, say, the entrance to Fort Dix.

But with its storefront composed of ink-black windows that prevent anyone from seeing inside and a door that can be opened only with a state-issued computerized swipe card, it’s hardly inviting either.

Inside, patients and visitors alike must sign in and provide state-issued ID to a security guard at the front desk.

Cameras — monitored by the state Department of Health — watch the foyer and waiting room. More of them overlook the dispensary area behind yet another locked door, which is accessible only to patients and staff.

Three years after New Jersey authorized the limited use of marijuana as a treatment for the sick — and three months after Greenleaf opened its doors — the present reality of the state’s experiment in alternative treatment comes down to this nondescript one-story building on Bloomfield Avenue. A recent tour offered a glimpse inside a system in a state of evolution.

Five other centers have received state approval, but they are struggling to find communities willing to accept them and have other start-up issues. Before that, it took three years for state officials to iron out the regulations and controls that guide the medical marijuana system, bureaucratic delays that state officials say were necessary but were frustrating to eligible patients.

So far, 818 patients and 94 physicians have registered to participate in the state medical-marijuana program — which makes the drug available to those with documented cases of such disorders as multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and terminal cancer.

The tight security may be at odds with the image of a facility devoted to treating the sick. But Greenleaf executives say they are taking extraordinary steps to secure their product (which, after all, is still classified as an illegal Schedule 1 drug under federal law, while generating billions on a thriving black market). They’re also concerned about protecting patients’ privacy.

“Our patients come up to the door wearing their hats pulled down, with sunglasses on,” said Julio Valentin Jr., chief operating officer of the non-profit corporation. Valentin, a retired Newark police officer, oversaw the renovation of the formerly vacant storefront that Greenleaf has rented for its dispensary. “They have a right to their privacy.”

In fact, no one but the staff is allowed inside the dispensary when it’s open to patients.

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