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New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program Expansion On Its Way?

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New Jersey could see the expansion of its medical marijuana program sometime in early 2018.

The state’s Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel recently recommended that patients suffering from more than 40 conditions should have access to medical marijuana with permission from a doctor.

The suggestions, which were based on a review of testimony provided by doctors and patients familiar with the conditions, could potentially open up program participation to people with chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, opiate-use disorder, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Tourette syndrome and others, according to Philly.com.

New Jersey’s seven-year-old medical marijuana program is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation. It currently allows only those with 12 serious conditions, including terminal cancer and multiple sclerosis, to purchase cannabis medicine from their local dispensary.

It is for this reason that, after all this time, the program services only a little more than 13,000 patients statewide. The addition of some or all of the recommended health conditions, however, would undoubtedly lead to thousands more people being registered.

But that is not exactly a situation the Christie administration seems prepared to support.

In fact, Governor Christie has mostly opposed any expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program for fear that it create a “front for legalization.” Although the governor did eventually approve a measure in 2016 that allowed PTSD to be added to the state’s list of qualified conditions, his favorable decision on the matter was made with much apprehension.

From here, the panel’s recommendations must go through a two-month long public comment period before going in front of Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett for a final decision. There is no word yet on which conditions—if any—Bennett will consider.

“The commissioner has to review the recommendations and rule on them, so the department has no comment at this time,” Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the commissioner said in a statement.

One way or another, New Jersey is on its way to hosting more progressive marijuana laws.

State lawmakers have been discussing the possibility of passing a piece of legislation early next year that would allow the existence of a taxed and regulated marijuana market. The only real hold up, at this point, is the fact that Governor Christie, a staunch opponent to legalization, remains in office. But his term comes to a screeching halt at the beginning of 2018, when the new governor elected this November takes control.

Democratic nominee Phil Murphy, whom the latest polls have leading by a substantial margin over the Republican pick, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, fully supports bringing an end to marijuana prohibition.

But even Guadagno supports making it easier for patients to gain access to medical marijuana, not to mention the elimination of criminal penalties associated with small time possession.

So, regardless of what happens with the proposed medical marijuana expansion this year, it seems inevitable that New Jersey will experience some much needed reform on the cannabis issue as soon as lawmakers no longer have to contend with the ultra-conservative ideals of Governor Christie.

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