Across the gaping divide of the medical marijuana issue in New Jersey, you could find two guys more different than Jim Quick and Steve Cuspilich.

But they might not end up on common ground when it comes to therapeutic cannabis.

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Quick is a member of the silent generation who raised his family in Maple Shade and wears his blue-collar pride like a badge, including the Eagles cap perched defiantly on his head in the midst of a bummer season. Cuspilich is a boomer from Southampton, a construction worker and pipe fitter and the divorced father of three.

Quick is tall and garrulous, a former tractor-trailer driver who built his own house and has the thick hands to prove it.

Cuspilich is slight and unassuming, like Quick a union man, but one physically diminished by chronic illness.

Earlier this month, the older man arrived at a Maple Shade zoning meeting to argue against a medical marijuana dispensary run by Compassionate Sciences ATC at a former furniture store on Route 38. The zoning board rejected the plan.

Cuspilich — victim of a mean case of Crohn’s disease — will smoke marijuana whether or not it is sanctioned by the state’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.

Thus the divide.

But the two had more in common than they thought when they met last week at a Medford diner to discuss the gray areas of that law. Passed in 2010 but not given the green light by the Christie administration until July, the legislation allows for up to 2 ounces of medical marijuana per patient to be dispensed at state-sanctioned ATCs — or Alternate Treatment Centers.

But the idea of dispensing what is otherwise an illegal drug even to sick people did not initially sit well with Quick, father of four daughters and grandfather of 11. He got wind of the Oct. 12 zoning meeting when his wife heard about it on TV.

“I was working on my kitchen doing backsplash,” Quick recalls. “My wife was watching Fox News and she said, ‘Did you hear this?’ Sure enough, I said, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’

“I went to A.C. Moore and I bought some poster board and a magic marker. And I made a sign that said, ‘Maple Shade does not want to be the marijuana capital of the New Jersey. This is a joint Maple Shade can do without.’ ”

Of the last line Quick sheepishly admits, “That was my daughter’s idea.”

Cuspilich was not at that meeting but has testified before the state about the pain and symptom relief he gets from cannabis, which he purchases on the street in Philadelphia. Twice a month he makes a buy, and each time he risks arrest and a $250 fine for possession.

But Cuspilich insists the $300 a month he spends on pot is a pittance compared with the cost of drugs prescribed for Crohn’s, including painkillers. In February, he was on nine medications, including one that cost $900 a month. Now he’s down to three, a fact he attributes to the cannabis he smokes every day.

“There’s no getting high on this (medical marijuana),” notes Cuspilich, whose life has been a living hell of vomiting after meals and constant trips to the bathroom since he was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 1994.

“If I wanted to get high, I’ve got 60 mg Oxycontins. All I’d have to do is double that and I’d get stupid. But I don’t want that.”

As they sat at the Medport Diner last week — Quick with enough of an appetite for scrapple and over-easy eggs, Cuspilich only able to stomach coffee and grapefruit juice — the men established a quick cordiality. Across the four-top table, Quick leans toward the younger man, “I don’t have a problem with this (medical marijuana) at all if it’s going to help somebody like you.”

Cuspilich smiles at the sentiment he’s heard before, but understands where Quick was coming from with his zoning board sign.

“I’m not going to tell someone who lives in Maple Shade that this is what you should have in your neighborhood.”

But both men agree the ideal state law would allow for home cultivation of marijuana — a proposal in the original legislation drafted by state Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, in 2005 — and home delivery of cannabis.

Neither feature made it into the current law. But Quick and Cuspilich agree either would be better than dispensing the drug at an outpatient facility, especially one in a residential neighborhood.

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea if it was regulated,” says the 69-year-old Quick of home delivery.

Cuspilich — who lights up in the privacy of his own home but was once arrested when a police dog sniffed out cannabis in his car — doesn’t blame the older man for wanting to protect his 11 grandchildren from drugs. At 48, he has a grandkid himself.

“If it didn’t have the stigma, people would be like, ‘Wow!’ ” says Cuspilich of marijuana’s medical benefits.

“I’ve been saying the same thing,” Quick adds. “If it does help somebody, I have no problem with that. I’ve said it a thousand times.”

For now, a dispensary in Maple Shade is out, according to Township Manager Gary LaVenia. Compassionate Sciences ATC is unlikely to appeal the township’s zoning board decision, according to its spokesman, Andrei Bogolubov. He adds the New York state-based nonprofit is seeking another location in Camden County or Burlington County.

Princeton-based Compassionate Care Foundation has expressed interest in a vacant warehouse in Westampton, not far from where Cuspilich lives. But the foundation has not yet contacted the township with a formal plan, according to Township Clerk Donna Ryan. Also a nonprofit, Compassionate Care did not return a phone call for comment.

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Both entities are among six in the state licensed to dispense medical marijuana. Compassionate Sciences and Compassionate Care are licensees for South Jersey.

But with zoning having already been an issue locally, it will likely be years before anyone dispenses cannabis legally in New Jersey, medical marijuana advocates say.

Scutari, who faces re-election on Nov. 8, has a mother with multiple sclerosis who could benefit from medical marijuana, as can patients with HIV or AIDS, ALS, epilepsy, cancer, anorexia and other ailments included in the bill. He’s hopeful some of the regulations imposed on the law by Gov. Chris Christie — including limiting the strength of marijuana dispensed and prohibiting edible forms — will be reconsidered as the law is implemented.

“I’m hopeful by the end of Mr. Christie’s term that we’ll see dispensaries. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of when the bill was signed and people are still suffering.”

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Meanwhile, Steve Cuspilich walked out of Medport Diner last week with a cane, a result of recent knee surgery and joint aches from Crohn’s. He needed to stretch his legs and have a smoke — the legal kind. Jim Quick left an extra tip on the table and joined his new acquaintance outside. He quit smoking 26 years ago.

Like a Gunshot blast!

Medical marijuana had given both men food for thought. But so did other commonalities: union membership, grandchildren, caring for aging parents.

Long after a reporter had pulled out of the lot onto Route 70, the two men remained chatting on the common ground of a diner sidewalk.

Like a Gunshot blast!

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Author: Christina Mitchell
Contact: Contact Us
Website: Two men find common ground in medical marijuana debate