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New Jersey Moves Forward With Medical Marijuana Program Expansion

New Jersey moves forward with medical marijuana program expansion to make medical cannabis available to everyone.

Adam Drury

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New Jersey Moves Forward With Medical Marijuana Program Expansion

Lawmakers on New Jersey’s State Assembly Health Committee just voted on legislation that would massively overhaul the state’s medical cannabis laws. The committee’s vote marks the first step toward deciding whether New Jersey moves forward with medical marijuana program expansion, or not. And despite Republican opposition, Democrats were able to gather enough votes to approve the measure in committee. If the bill ultimately becomes law, the medical cannabis landscape in New Jersey would change dramatically. Here’s how.

Legislators Move To Massively Overhaul New Jersey’s Medical Cannabis Laws

Like other medical marijuana states, New Jersey has set strict limits on medical marijuana. These rules govern who qualifies to use cannabis-based treatments, who’s authorized to prescribe them, and what kinds of medicine manufacturers can produce and sell.

The new legislation brought to the Assembly Health Committee, however, would do away with most of those restrictions. For patients, that means wider, more expansive access to legal medical cannabis.

“There is no benefit in denying a patient relief,” said Assemblyperson Herb Conaway (D-Burlington), chair of the Health Committee. The Health Committee approved the measure on Thursday.

The changes the measure proposes are sweeping. Most significantly, it would eliminate restrictions based on qualifying conditions. Instead, the new measure would make medical cannabis available for any diagnosed condition.

The measure would also permit physicians to recommend medical cannabis treatments for any condition. And further, physicians would no longer have the requirement of enrolling in a public registry in order to give a patient a marijuana recommendation.

The same goes for patients, who would also no longer need a certification from their doctor.

Those changes alone would be enough to significantly expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. But the measure goes even further.

For children suffering from conditions like epilepsy, the bill makes it easier for minor patients to obtain edible forms of medical cannabis.

For caregivers, the bill doubles the number of patients a caregiver can serve from one to two.

Finally, for dispensary owners and providers, the measure doubles the 30-day limit on medical cannabis sales from two ounces to four. The measure would also set up an additional 12 cultivators and 40 dispensaries, compared to the six currently operating in the state.

Despite Republican Opposition, New Jersey Moves Forward With Medical Marijuana Program Expansion

The sum total of these changes is a drastically expanded medical marijuana program that reduces costs and cuts through red tape. And that should benefit everyone, from producers to caregivers to patients.

But before the vote that approved the measure on Thursday, Republican committee members voiced their opposition and raised concerns about the expansion.

According to the Associated Press, Republican Assemblyperson Brian Rumpf doubted that the proposed expansion was supported by medical cannabis research. Rumpf voted against the measure.

There were also five abstentions from the vote. Three Democratic committee members opted out, along with two Republicans.

Those who support the bill, however, say it’s all about empowering physicians and patients. “We are putting patients and physicians in control,” said Conaway, who is also a medical doctor.

Conaway is setting his sights on the larger public health picture in New Jersey. He sees expanding access to medical cannabis as a way to “de-escalate opioids and reduce risk of unintended addition and death.”

Final Hit: New Jersey Moves Forward With Medical Marijuana Program Expansion

By removing what many say are overly-restrictive Christie-era rules, advocates of the state’s medical cannabis program say enrollment will increase. Currently, there are 18,200 patients in New Jersey’s medical cannabis program.

As New Jersey moves forward with medical marijuana program expansion, the next step is a vote before the full Assembly. After that, the bill will go to the Senate. If approved, it will end up on Gov. Phil Murphy‘s desk.

For his part, Gov. Murphy campaigned on a platform of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. And he’s made expanding and improving New Jersey’s medical cannabis program a top priority.

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