The Medical Marijuana Evaluation Doctor Appointment
As you may recall from the 1st part of this 3-part Series of blog posts documenting the Registration Process for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, I had found a “Recommending Doctor” and paid $350.00 to meet with him and his staff to be Evaluated. At that Evaluation Appointment, the doctor listened to me describe all of my Crohn’s Disease issues from gastrointestinal pain to peripheral joint/muscle issues and systemic inflammatory problems like the “Interstitial Lung Disease” I somehow picked up after a few years on the drug “Humira.” For those with Crohn’s Disease who rely upon Humira for sheer survival, it may be best to think of me as a “cautionary tale” as someone has to get side effects. However, it is possible my lung problems are more directly related to my Crohn’s Disease but the samples from two (2) surgical lung biopsies in 2011 and 2013, respectively, have yet to be identified by pathologists in the United States. As a result, doctors are never sure what they are treating other than some type of inflammatory lung disease which has caused so much damage to my lungs that I have a fairly significant amount of “necrotic” or dead lung tissue as a result.
The culprit is perhaps unclear but I am hoping the anti-inflammatory attributes of Cannabis, or the Cannabinoids (CBDs), will at least prevent future flare-ups of SEVERE Shortness of Breath which are so bad that I cannot talk and breathe at the same time. Whether I am in a flare-up or not, this lung problem also prevents me from breathing normally in any kind of altitude other than sea-level. I don’t like the pain and life-limitations this unknown Lung Disease has placed on me. I’m hoping medical marijuana will supplant the ineffective courses of Prednisone I must endure whenever Severe Shortness of Breath reveals the fragility of my life. I told the doctor about these aspirations. He seemed very enthusiastic about me achieving my goals.
Doctor’s Staff is Incredibly Informative
Before I left the Evaluation Appointment (the $350.00 cost is typical no matter whom you see to be evaluated and “recommended” for the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program), the doctor’s staff members were very kind in answering all of my questions from administrative to actual product concerns. Since smoking and vaporizing seem to be the only induction methods presently available in New Jersey, I took note of as much of this information as possible and when I returned home began looking on the Web for ways to somehow make “Edibles” out of the Medical Marijuana I would subsequently purchase after I received the above ID Card. To that end, I subsequently purchased a “Magical Butter Machine” on the Web for approximately $175.00. I haven’t used it yet and likely will hold off until after I am more familiar with the potency of vaporizing medical marijuana but as far as I can tell it easily converts regular butter into marijuana-infused butter so that it can then be used to make different food products “activated” by the marijuana thus creating Edibles.
The Registration Process & waiting for “the” email from NJ MMP
When I left the doctor’s offices I was told I would receive an email in 4-6 weeks from the New Jersey Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Program (“NJMMP”) which would prompt me to pay the biennial (i.e., once every 2 years) Registration Fee of $200.00 to the State of New Jersey. After I paid it, I would then receive the aforementioned NJ Medical Marijuana ID Card (pictured above with all of my identifying information redacted) via regular mail 5-7 days later. Upon receipt of the ID Card, I had to contact the NJMMP to let them know I received it and then I was free to make a “purchase appointment” at the Alternative Treatment Center (“ATC” or Dispensary) to which I was assigned.
The Rigors of Registering for the NJMMP are NECESSARY
This “belt and suspenders” initiation and activation process somewhat concerned me but, the more I thought about it, I actually became impressed with the thorough process implemented in New Jersey. The prices seemed a bit steep but the NJMMP was created to help patients like me so it’s hard to find fault with the registration process. After all, it seems logical for a State government to require a certain amount of “comfort” when it changes the status quo to adopt NEW ways of doing things to better serve its citizens. Making medical marijuana available to sick citizens of its State who can then benefit from its various medicinal qualities is a fairly radical governmental change when you consider that marijuana is illegal and there still exists mandatory minimum penalties for non-medical possession and for the sale of marijuana. More specifically, while medical marijuana users in NJ may possess up to two (2) ounces per month, non-medical possession of the same two (2) ounces is a felony punishable by 18 months of jail time. Given this parallel existence of felonious marijuana possession, it’s a wonder approximately 26 States have legalized Medical Marijuana, or at least decriminalized it, as of June, 2016.
NJ’s $200.00 Biennial License Fee is only $20.00 for people receiving Social Security Disability (“SSD”) Benefits
The NJMMP email finally arrived and I must admit I was surprised everything worked so smoothly and exactly as described by the doctor and his staff. As I now had to pay the biennial $200.00 license fee to trigger my subsequent receipt of the NJMMP ID Card, I began to wonder if the thorough NJMMP made provisions for those patients living on a fixed income such as on SSD because paying a $200.00 Registration Fee every 2 years seemed more like a tax to me than the price to pay for simply having access to medication which apparently helps many people with my incurable and difficult to treat Crohn’s Disease when in many cases no other medications work. Sure enough, I read the NJMMP email carefully before submitting a $200.00 payment and upon submission of certain proofs of receiving SSD, clear language indicated the biennial license fee was only $20.00 for SSD recipients.
Miscommunication w/ my Doctor’s Office Staff caused a DELAY
Since I was declared Permanently Disabled as of July 1, 2010 and have been receiving SSD Benefits ever since, I thought $20.00 was quite fair and opted for it immediately. This is when my NJMMP “Application” ran into some problems because the doctor’s staff had submitted my Application to the NJMMP without mentioning I was a SSD recipient. They claimed I never mentioned it during the extensive Evaluation Appointment. I disagreed. **They had also forgotten to give me my NJMMP “Reference Number” which should be given to the patient at the end of the Evaluation Appointment as it is necessary for the patient to access in order to act upon the NJMMP email and pay the biennial Registration Fee. Regardless, they eventually emailed me the Reference Number and they were still willing to submit my SSD paperwork proving my SSD status but they were unable to cite a timetable for when I would receive the subsequent NJMMP email triggering the $20.00 biennial Registration Fee. (**Truth be told, I must have asked so many questions at the Evaluation Appointment that I never gave them the opportunity to give me the “Reference Number!” Therefore, I’m detailing this process not to blame anyone but to point out the level of specificity required by the NJMMP and a patient is better off knowing about another’s mishaps if only so they don’t repeat them.)
The doctor’s staff understandably sought simple SSD proof from me to hopefully expedite the process but my “Fully Favorable Social Security Disability Decision” was 11-pages long as it was a successful appeal of a denial for which I had to wait almost 3 years to get a Court Date in order to appeal. The complexities of my Crohn’s Disease case and the Judge’s ire at the previous denial resulted in a passionate, well-reasoned but rather lengthy decision and the NJMMP was seeking a simple Determination Letter of SSD Benefits. Despite their genuine best of intentions, I was concerned the doctor’s staff was not sure what to submit. But they did submit voluminous SSD paperwork on my behalf. However, afterwards they told me they had no idea how much longer this change to being an SSD Recipient (and to a $20.00 biennial Registration Fee) had just made the NJMMP Application process.
I emailed the NJMMP & they CALLED ME
Things have never run smoothly for me in anything I’ve done for as long as I could remember. This revelation is just fact and I’ve always found it funny because thinking about it any other way is just not positive or productive. Notwithstanding the foregoing, and for reasons even I don’t understand, I still assume everything will work out just fine, up until it doesn’t. But in this case I felt I had thrown too much at the doctor’s staff and began to worry they hadn’t come across a case like mine and I might be in uncharted or unnoticed territory. Accordingly, I waited a few weeks for their efforts to effectuate progress on my behalf and then a few weeks ago on Memorial Day weekend I went back to the NJMMP website and sent an email to them explaining the above.
Much to my surprise, I received a PHONE CALL ABOUT MY NJMMP EMAIL THE VERY NEXT DAY from someone at the NJMMP. This woman quickly understood my problem and focused on trying to help me “prove” my NJ SSD Benefits. She also acknowledged how diligent the doctor’s staff had been in trying to explain my SSD situation and my need to register under the $20.00 biennial Registration Fee setup. Since my 11-page SSD Favorable Determination Letter was too complicated for the needs of the NJMMP, she then kindly suggested I create an account on the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) website and print out a ““Benefit Verification Letter.” This Letter is a “Form” easily found on the SSA website after an account is created. This very kind woman from the NJMMP then asked me to fax this letter to her and she assured me my problems would then be solved.
SSD “Benefit Verification Letter” solves the problem
Within 10 minutes of faxing the “Benefit Verification Letter” to the NJMMP, I received “the email” from the NJMMP but this time the biennial Registration Fee was $20.00. I paid it and approximately 5-7 days later I received the above NJMMP ID Card in the mail. A day or two later I called my Dispensary and made a purchase appointment for the next day. The person who took my call at the Dispensary was also very nice and indicated the first visit would probably take 30 minutes or so because they spend time educating me about the various products. In that regard, I’m looking forward to learning all I can about how medical marijuana’s anti-inflammatory properties can help keep my Severe Crohn’s Disease and its peripheral effects under control.
Part 3 of this 3-part Series will describe my first medical marijuana purchase visit at a New Jersey Dispensary and my early experiences with the purchased product.