New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority approved a $357,000 loan to a medical cannabis dispensary. The dispensary, Compassionate Care Foundation, plans on opening in Egg Harbor Township by mid-October.

The loan demonstrates the state’s new commitment to its struggling medical marijuana program, which Governor Chris Christie initially attempted to block. New Jersey has come a long way. As a Compassionate Care board member put it, “you don’t get much more mainstream than the Economic Development Authority.”

According to Bill Thomas, chief executive of Compassionate Care, the loan will be used to buy cultivation equipment as well as expand growroom space. The money will also allow the dispensary to hire a dozen additional employees and eventually produce enough medicine for 1,500 patients a month. 

That medicinal pot will be necessary to fulfill the needs of New Jersey's current 1,233 registered patients, with those numbers expected to increase as the existence of a second dispensary is further publicized. A report by the Star-Ledger in August found that only 127 patients statewide had received marijuana from the state’s sole dispensary, Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair.

The development authority approved the dispensary loan by a 15-0 vote, prompting David Knowlton – a former official with the state Department of Health and a founder of Compassionate Care – to observe, “They are saying this is a mainstream public health issue.”

Michele Brown, the development authority’s CEO, confirmed the loan is not paid for with any tax dollars and that their department asked for assurance from the Obama administration that the federal government would not prosecute the authority for lending money to a marijuana-based business. The economic development authority is considered an independent state agency serving to expand New Jersey's economic base.

Compassionate Care received the loan at a 4.65 percent interest rate. The loan must be paid back in four years. The dispensary’s outlook is very positive. In the next10 years, it is projected to generate $2.8 million a year.