New Jersey Opens Major Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program

New Jersey continues to broaden the scope of its nearly decade-old medical marijuana program.
New Jersey Opens Major Expansion of Medical Marijuana Program
Lukasz Stefanski/ Shutterstock

On Monday, New Jersey’s Department of Health announced plans to accept applications for individuals and entities interested in opening operational and cultivation facilities. The agency said that it is seeking applicants to operate as many as 24 Alternative Treatment Centers, with the aim to place eight in the northern part of the state, eight in the central region and seven in the south. An additional facility will be placed in a yet-to-be-determined region, the department said. 

Moreover, the department said it intends to grant licenses for an additional 15 dispensaries, five cultivation centers and four “vertically integrated permits,” which would involve a combination of cultivation, manufacturing and dispensary. The applications, which were made available on Monday, are due on August 22; it costs $20,000 to apply, though failed applicants will receive a reimbursement of $18,000. 

All applicants “must submit a security plan and an environmental impact statement,” and demonstrate “experience in cultivating, manufacturing or retailing marijuana and provide quality control and assurance plans,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

The permit expansion was put in motion earlier this month when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed a bill to grant an additional 24 licenses. It’s part of an ongoing effort by Murphy to dramatically expand access to medical marijuana in the state. 

Medical cannabis has been legal in New Jersey since early 2010, when outgoing Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine signed the measure into law on his final day in office. But for years, the program suffered from low enrollment due to the law’s strict requirements. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who succeeded Corzine, was a vocal opponent to medical marijuana, calling it a “front for legalization.” 

“What there’s a huge demand for is marijuana. Not medical marijuana,” Christie said in the summer of 2014. “Because when we run a medically based program, you don’t see the demand.”

But under Murphy, who was elected governor in 2017, the state has made an effort to expand the medical cannabis program, with growing calls to also legalize recreational use. Earlier this month, Murphy signed bill A20, also known as “Jake’s Law” after seven-year-old Jake Honig who died last year from brain cancer. The law brings a number of changes and expansions to the medical marijuana program, including raising the monthly limit for patients from two ounces to three ounces, and allowing edibles to be prescribed to adults (previously, they were only available to minors). 

“I am proud to stand with my legislative partners as we break down barriers to ensure this life-changing medical treatment is affordable and accessible for those who need it most,” Murphy said at the signing ceremony. 

But the effort to legalize recreational marijuana, which Murphy also supports, collapsed in the New Jersey legislature earlier this year. After that legislation fizzled, Murphy vowed that the fight was not over.
“History is rarely made at the first attempt,” he said in March. “But eventually barriers do fall to those who are committed to breaking them down. Certainly I am disappointed, but we are not defeated.”

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