Gov. Phil Murphy recently addressed a campaign promise to make New Jersey more cannabis-friendly by signing an executive order requiring a review and expansion of the State’s medical marijuana program.
NJ Medical Marijuana Program
In 2010, New Jersey legalized medical use of marijuana with the enactment of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The New Jersey Department of Health implemented the Act by creating the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program (MMP). The MMP authorizes approved physicians to disburse up to two ounces of medical marijuana to a registered patient during any 30-day period to treat numerous “debilitating medical conditions,” particularly where conventional treatments are ineffective or exacerbate a patient’s suffering.
Although New Jersey launched its medical marijuana program several years ago, there are still only five alternative treatment centers (ATCs) in the state, with one more dispensary on the way. In addition, only 15,000 patients are currently enrolled in the program. The low numbers reflect the number of regulatory hoops that doctors, patients, and dispensaries must jump through to participate. By way of comparison, the medical marijuana program in Michigan, a state with a similar population to New Jersey, currently serves over 218,000 patients. In addition, the program in Arizona, a state with a smaller population than New Jersey, serves over 136,000 patients.
Expanding Access to Medical Cannabis in New Jersey
Under Gov. Murphy’s executive order, the Department of Health (Department) and the Board of Medical Examiners (Board) must review all aspects of New Jersey’s medical cannabis program, including but not limited to:
- An evaluation of the current rules regulating the operations and siting of dispensaries and cultivation facilities, particularly focusing on whether the rules should be revised to remove unwarranted obstructions to expansion;
- A review of the current process for obtaining a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary, including recommendations to expedite that process;
- An examination of conditions for participating physicians in the program to ensure that any such requirements are not needlessly onerous;
- An analysis of the current list of debilitating medical conditions for which medical marijuana may be authorized, and a recommendation as to whether doctors should be given the flexibility to make these determinations on their own;
- An assessment of the methods by which patients or their primary caregivers are obtaining medical marijuana and a recommendation of whether rules should be amended to approve additional methods that could facilitate patient access;
- A review of regulations that govern the forms in which medical marijuana can be ingested, taking into consideration the needs for different methods for different patients; and
- Any other aspect of the program within the Department or the Board’s discretion that hinders or fails to effectively achieve the statutory objective of ensuring safe access to medical marijuana for patients in need.
The Department’s study must be completed in 60 days, after which the rulemaking process necessary to reform the program will begin. This timeline, combined with the recent opposition to Gov. Murphy’s plans for full legalization of an adult-use cannabis market in New Jersey, may result in the relatively quick development and expansion of the State’s medical program during the Murphy administration.
This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:
- Can Medical Marijuana Help Solve the Opioid Crisis?
- Three Bills Introduced to Legalize Recreational Cannabis in New Jersey
- Apply for a NJ Recreational Use Marijuana Dispensary License
If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.
Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.