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Medical marijuana's sky-high price in New Jersey

In the world of medical marijuana, few officials are as big of a buzz kill as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and activists say patients are paying the price as a result.

According to a crowd-sourced survey by the site PriceofWeed.com, the average price of an ounce of "high quality" marijuana in New Jersey is $342.82, about $100 higher than in Colorado, which has legalized the recreational use of pot. The website says its data comes from thousands of people who have purchased cannabis from both legal dispensaries and the black market. An email to the PriceOfWeed.com seeking comment wasn't answered.

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A 2013 survey from the New Jersey Department of Health found that patients at New Jersey's medical marijuana dispensaries paid on average $469 an ounce. According to activist Ken Wolski, patients are now being charged over $500 an ounce for legal pot, and as a result, many are forced to buy pot on the black market, where it's more affordable. Some don't get any marijuana at all.

"They're priced out of the program," he told CBS MoneyWatch. "Insurance doesn't cover the costs."

Christie, a potential Republican presidential candidate, has recently vowed that if elected he would crack down on states that legalize pot. That's because the former U.S. Attorney for the District of N.J. considers cannabis to be a "gateway" to other illicit drugs, a view that's at odds with what experts in the field say. Christie agreed to allow medical marijuana in New Jersey under conditions that experts say are among the strictest in the country.

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For instance, patients need to pay a $200 registration fee and must have what the state considers to be a "debilitating medical condition," such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease), terminal cancer or muscular dystrophy. People with less than 12 months to live and those with certain conditions such as epilepsy that are resistant to conventional treatments are also eligible.

At the urging of veteran's groups, a bill was recently introduced in the state legislature that would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of eligible conditions.

"In terms of the medical market, the high cost of licensing and being able to meet the regulatory requirements is certainly reflected in the cost of medicine," wrote Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "The relative rarity of operational dispensaries in the state, combined with the fact that patients cannot grow their own medicine, creates a supply-side deficit that also has an impact on prices. Unfortunately, patients bear the brunt of this."

As of 2014, 3,727 New Jersey patients and 501 caregivers were registered with the program, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Six nonprofits won the right to operate dispensaries in the state in 2011, but the program was "slow to ramp up" because of difficulties in finding communities to host these facilities, and trouble attracting investors for a business that violates state law. The Star-Ledger also noted that dispensary owners found the regulatory process "confusing and cumbersome."

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