TRENTON — The president and chief executive of one of New Jersey’s three medical marijuana dispensaries has quit, saying he could no longer keep working for no pay in what has been a struggling industry.
The executive, Bill Thomas, was the public face of Compassionate Care Foundation, Inc. of Egg Harbor Township, which opened in October. The dispensary, known in New Jersey as an “alternative treatment center” serves about 600 of New Jersey 2,300 registered patients.
Thomas has been outspoken about the difficulties of operating a dispensary — from finding investors, to handling banking issues, and more recently the difficulties patients have had trying to find a doctor to recommend them for the program. Dispensary owners have said the lack of doctor involvement has been an impediment to patient enrollment, which was estimated to be as much as 50,000 before the law passed.
Thomas wrote in an email to a reporter today that he was not longer affiliated with the nonprofit dispensary, and referred questions to David Knowlton, a board member and co-founder.
“I have been basically volunteering for three years and now I have to find a paying position,” according to Thomas’ email. He did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for the Health Department, Donna Leusner, declined to comment on Thomas’ departure.
Knowlton said Thomas had been paid in 2011 and 2012 as they were preparing to open, but when start-up costs continued to mount in 2013, they agreed he would defer his salary temporarily.
“I am thankful to Bill. He served us and the patients well — a lot of patients got good care because of him,” Knowlton said, describing Thomas’ departure as “cordial” and calling him “a dear friend.”
Others who helped launch the business have also given the dispensary a break, Knowlton said. The landlord “has taken a significantly reduced amount” for rent, and employees have volunteered extra time. “That part has been heart-warming,” he said.
The dispensary’s chief operating officer, Tom Prendergast, has assumed the day-to-day managing role, assisted by the chief financial officer, Larry McCabe, Knowlton said.
A former deputy health commissioner and the president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a consumer research and advocacy group, Knowlton said he was talking to the state about making some changes to the program.
Aside from the Egg Harbor township dispensary, there are two others: Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair and Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge.
Knowlton acknowledged it would be difficult to keep the dispensary operating if the number of patients does not increase, but for now they would work through the challenges.
“I am guardedly optimistic,” he said.
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