New Jersey lawmakers could vote as early as Thursday on a major medical marijuana expansion bill. Senate Bill 10 advanced out of a pair of committees on Monday, but only after undergoing multiple amendments. The amended version is not yet publicly available, but details are forthcoming. Still, the bill’s core framework remains the same, aiming to expand patient access to caregivers and licensed medical cannabis products. So even though adult-use legalization is off the table in New Jersey for the time being, medical cannabis consumers, caregivers and the industry stand to benefit from the bill’s new regulations.
Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Would Improve Patient Access
New Jersey has been trying to grow its medical cannabis program under Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. When Murphy took office in January 2018, the state had registered 30,000 medical cannabis patients. That number has since increased to 46,000. But the problem is that the state’s caregiver and dispensary infrastructure has not grown to keep up.
Currently, there are only six medical cannabis providers operating in the state. As a result, many patients approved for marijuana cannot access any.
New Jersey regulators have tried to approve more providers and get more businesses operating. But the application review and selection process has been bogged down in litigation, holding up the program’s expansion.
New Bill Would Break Up Vertical Integration Requirements for Medical Cannabis Businesses
To attempt to free up the licensing logjam, Senate Bill 10 would revise the requirements for medical cannabis businesses. Under New Jersey’s current law, businesses in the medical cannabis industry must be vertically integrated. In other words, a single company must obtain licenses for every stage in the production process, from cultivation to processing, distribution and sale.
But under new regulations, New Jersey regulators can issue separate permits for each activity. The new rules should make it easier for businesses to start operating.
The new bill would also establish a regulatory agency entirely devoted to New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Currently, the state Department of Health is responsible for licensing and regulating the program.
Failed Adult-Use Legalization Bid Frees Up Lawmakers to Expand Medical Access
Last week, the latest legislative effort to legalize cannabis for adults in New Jersey failed. But that failure means lawmakers now have more leverage for expanding medical access to cannabis.
The recent efforts to expand medical cannabis access were all tied in with bills to legalize adult use. Now, lawmakers can push forward a medical marijuana expansion on its own. And unlike adult-use legalization, which faced staunch resistance among Republican lawmakers in the New Jersey Legislature, there is broad bi-partisan support for medical marijuana.
After years of delays, then, medical cannabis patients in New Jersey are very close to having better access to physicians, treatment centers and dispensaries. And if S10 passes, they and their caregivers will also enjoy more robust legal protections from workplace or other forms of discrimination.