The Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has recently signed a bill which expands the state’s medical marijuana system. The bill was signed into law on Tuesday, and the broad new law will make access to medical marijuana much easier for patients in New Jersey.
New Jersey’s medical marijuana program began over a decade ago. Its implementation has been slowed down and limited by Republican governors, but this sweeping change is going to have a huge impact in New Jersey.
When the medical marijuana program began in Jersey, there were 15,000 registered patients. Now, there are over 49,000. Here is a quick overview of the changes which are now in effect.
The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act
To begin with, it is important to relay the story of Jake Honig. Jake Honig was a 7-year-old boy who battled cancer – throughout the course of his treatment, his parents fought to make access to cannabis easier. Jake Honig’s parents tackled a variety of issues – from home deliveries to which illnesses are eligible for treatment with medical marijuana.
Jake Honig passed away early last year, after a five-year battle with brain cancer. The bill’s signing was an emotional affair, full of stories about the brave young boy.
His father, in particular, shared how cannabis allowed little Jake’s personality to shine through when using medical cannabis – unlike the overwhelmingly negative effects that opioids had on him. Medical cannabis allowed Jake Honig to feel like himself during his last months.
The story of Jake Honig is all too familiar – but it functioned as a rallying cry for activists and legislators seeking to fix an inefficient and slow system. The New Jersey medical cannabis expansion is the successful result of a lot of time, effort, and lobbying.
The law went into effect on Thursday, July 18th. The bill is a set of comprehensive changes, which will transform medical marijuana in New Jersey.
The first and most obvious change has to do with the maximum amount of cannabis that can be dispensed. Whereas the limit used to be 2 ounces, it has now been increased to 3 ounces per visit. To supplement this, patients’ supply has been boosted from 90 days to a full year, and home deliveries will now be legal.
Who Qualifies for Medical Cannabis?
The New Jersey medical cannabis expansion lowers the threshold from debilitating illnesses to qualifying illnesses. This will make it easier for health care professionals to prescribe cannabis.
This also opens the doors for more illnesses to be added to the list. As of right now, the list of illnesses includes PTSD, glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain, opioid addiction, seizures, and intractable skeletal muscular spasticity.
Who can Prescribe Cannabis?
Up to this point, only doctors could prescribe cannabis, now physician assistants and advanced practice nurses can do so too. Patients will only have to visit a doctor once a year to verify that they are still eligible for the program – previously, patients had to visit the doctor’s office four times a year to remain eligible for medical cannabis.
New Licensing Categories
A new system of licensing has been put in place. Up to now, there has been only one permit which allows for so-called alternative treatment centers, which functioned both as cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries. This permit has been split into these three separate categories.
Under the new bill, 15 percent of those new licenses will be made available to minority business owners, and another 15 percent will be made available to women, veterans, and disabled people.
The goal is to advance the industry with 24 new growers, 30 new manufacturers, and 54 new dispensaries. There are currently only six dispensaries operating in New Jersey. Governor Murphy has stated that his goal regarding cannabis is to gradually increase that number up to 100 operating dispensaries.
The state of New Jersey currently has six operating “alternative treatment centers.” One of the goals of this bill is to double that number.
Expanding the List of Cultivators
To increase the amount of cannabis available to patients in New Jersey, one of the top priorities of this bill is to expand the number of cultivators. Research conducted by New Jersey’s Health Department suggests that the state will have to quadruple the number of cultivators to meet demands and keep prices affordable.
In order to achieve this, the number of cultivators will be increased to 28. Current findings suggest that the medical marijuana program does not consistently and reliably meet the needs of the almost 49,000 patients currently registered.
Oversight and Taxation
Jake’s law also creates a five-member commission that will regulate the program. Up to now, New Jersey’s medical marijuana program was under the oversight of the Health Department. Having a body dedicated specifically to cannabis will prevent gridlocks and unnecessary bureaucracy.
The taxation of cannabis will also change dramatically. The 6.625% sales tax on medical marijuana products will be completely phased out over the next three years. Additionally, municipalities that host dispensaries can no longer impose a tax of more than 2% on cannabis businesses.
Ease of Access
This bill will also bring a number of changes which will make patients’ lives easier. Out of state medical cannabis patients will be able to buy medicine while visiting New Jersey, up to a time limit of six months.
Research has shown that less than half of registered patients live within half an hour of a cannabis retailer. Home deliveries will make access to much needed medical cannabis much easier for patients.
The expanding list of cultivators and dispensaries will also increase competition in the industry, ultimately reducing prices. All signs suggest that medical cannabis will become much more affordable in New Jersey. Additionally, patients with a terminal diagnosis will no longer be subject to the 2 ounces per month limit.
The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act is a long-overdue piece of legislation. However, it is a step in all the right directions. It will introduce much-needed reforms and make medical cannabis much more accessible to those that need it the most.
This bill will also provide New Jersey with a solid foundation upon which a cannabis industry can be built. This will have a positive impact both on legalization, and the performance of the inevitable recreational cannabis market in the state.