New Jersey Expands Medical Marijuana Program
The state of New Jersey announced on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 that Governor Phil Murphy will sign a bill that will significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program. This is a sort of “make-up” bill that falls short of the state government’s push to introduce legal recreational marijuana to New Jersey. Even still, the measure is being touted as a significant step forward for the growing cannabis industry in the state of New Jersey.
This bill is a second try by the Governor and the democratic state legislature to make the cannabis industry more robust after a bill that would have legalized the use of recreational marijuana in New Jersey failed to pass in March. Both the governor and the legislature were disappointed that the recreational bill did not pass, but are intent on widening the availability of marijuana in the state. This latest bill will work to shore up the growing industry and solidify the state’s pro-cannabis position. With the new bill, Murphy, who is also a Democrat, increased the approved number of the state’s medical dispensaries by half, from six outlets to 12.
Yes, it is disappointing that New Jersey still doesn’t have a legal recreational program in place yet, but it is encouraging to see that New Jersey is not giving up. In many states where recreational cannabis is now legal, there was a period of years when only MMJ was permitted. This does seem to be the natural progression toward full legalization. This time also provides the state government with the time necessary to study the current program.
New Jersey can take advantage of this period to study what is and what isn’t working in the MMJ program and make changes. These changes can also inform how they pursue legalization of recreational cannabis and what that program looks like. If the state takes advantage of this time to make necessary adjustments and apply lessons learned to the upcoming recreational program, it will not all be wasted time.
Another key aspect of the bill is that adjusts the way that residents are able to receive authorization for the use of medical marijuana. Prior to this new bill, citizens were required to visit a medical doctor to get that authorization. With this new bill, Physician Assistants and Advanced-Practice nurses will be permitted to also give permission. Now that only doctors are authorized to prescribe cannabis for medical conditions, it can be more difficult and expensive potential patients to obtain their authorizations. This is a huge step in providing access to medical marijuana.
Now that medical doctors are not the only option for obtaining a medical marijuana card, the ability for more people to experience the benefits of MMJ is now open to a larger pool of people. Additionally, with this new resource, and a larger pool of service providers, it is possible that the cost of obtaining a card can decrease. Allowing more providers to issue MMJ authorizations is an important step in providing a wide range of service to as many people in New Jersey as possible. With only 12 dispensaries in the state, it is still difficult for all residents to take advantage of the MMJ program.
There is no information yet available on future plans to increase the total number of dispensaries beyond the new number of 12. Proponents of MMJ and recreational cannabis are encouraged by the fact that the number of current dispensaries has been doubled, and there is not yet any discussion of future limitations of dispensary locations. Naturally, as the industry grows larger, these types of discussions will need to occur, but at the current level of dispensaries, it is not an issue. Access to medical marijuana can make a significant improvement in the lives of many people, and it is important that more options become available to them.
The bill also addresses the need for other aspects of the cannabis industry in addition to dispensaries. Once enacted, it will expand manufacturing and cultivating licenses. The previous alternative treatment center permit program that has been in existence will not be changed. Clearing the way for manufacturing and cultivation opportunities to flourish is a huge part of increasing awareness of the benefits of cannabis. Also, it does not appear as though the legislature is moving away from its desire to pass a recreational bill in the near future, and having these channels open will be helpful when that time comes. Easing the way for manufacturers and cultivators is a key step in normalizing and growing the cannabis industry within the state of New Jersey.
As more manufacturing permits are approved, the industry will benefit from the production of secondary products, rather than just flower buds. Edibles, personal care items, and hemp fiber products are just a few additional products that can become available to MMJ users. Many people prefer to use hand creams or lotions that are infused with cannabis rather than or in addition to digesting or smoking cannabis. Manufacturing permits will help the industry to expand and will create more jobs for the state’s economy.
New Jersey will also create a Cannabis Regulatory Commission comprised of five members. It will be the responsibility of the Commission to oversee the program. Prior to this latest bill, the medical marijuana program was overseen by the New Jersey Health Department. This step allows the state to grow the industry under the guidance of a specialized panel that will be more likely to understand the special challenges that come with this industry.
The Health Department has a lot of responsibility and would likely not have the staff or the resources to fully understand the unique needs of the cannabis industry. This commission will also help to provide insight into the industry and make recommendations for any initiatives that can improve the program. This knowledge and guidance will be especially helpful if and when New Jersey rolls out a recreational program.
While the vote in March was a big disappointment, it is encouraging to see that the state legislature and governor are continuing their efforts to make cannabis a viable industry in the state of New Jersey. While they are waiting to get the votes necessary to pass the recreational marijuana bill, it makes sense that they use this time to bolster the medical marijuana program. Without a strong MMJ foundation, it can be more difficult to launch a recreational program. The new changes that are included in this newest bill expand the footprint of the medical cannabis program and allow it to become more successful.
It will be interesting to watch to see what additional changes New Jersey enacts as they move closer to full cannabis legalization. Medical marijuana programs can make a significant and positive difference in the lives of many people, and it is encouraging to see the program growing in New Jersey. There is no reason to think that the state will not eventually reach this goal, especially as critics begin to learn more about the success of the state’s MMJ program. Keep tuned to see what happens next, we will be sure to report on any future bills that the New Jersey State Legislature and Governor bring forward that affect marijuana news.
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