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New Jersey Expands Medical Marijuana Program

New Jersey Expands Medical Marijuana Program
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

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New Jersey Expands Medical Marijuana Program

New Jersey might not have been able to legalize adult-use cannabis as promised this year, but the state has initiated steps to increase the accessibility of medical cannabis to hundreds of thousands of residents.

On July 2, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill expanding the state’s medical marijuana program into law, flanked by the parents of Jake Honig.

Honig, a 7-year-old boy who passed away in 2018 after a battle with cancer, was the namesake of the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act signed by Murphy on Tuesday. The tale of the relief the young boy found from cannabis during his cancer treatment was a major catalyst in getting the medical cannabis expansion through the legislature, where real marijuana reform was famously bogged down for years under former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Jake’s parents, Michael and Janet Honig, joined the governor, press and other advocates at one of Jake’s favorite restaurants to usher in the new era of medical cannabis in New Jersey since the bill took effect immediately.

The bill will make it possible for dozens more medical marijuana providers to open in the state, lowers the number of times patients need to visit a doctor to qualify and increases the amount that patients can purchase.

“Our goal has always been to have a program that is modernized, compassionate and puts patients first,” Murphy said at the press event.

Murphy said the expansion would allow the state’s medical marijuana program to become more functional and capable of filling the needs of New Jersey. “With today’s changes, we are raising the monthly limits on medical marijuana so patients won’t need to take dangerous and addictive opioids.”

The bill will also extend authorization periods for patients among a slew of other tweaks.

“We’re allowing edible forms of marijuana, which is easier for many patients to ingest, to be available for adult patients and not just minors. And over the next three years, we will be completely phasing out the sales tax on medical marijuana,” Murphy said before being forced to take an applause break.

The bill comes after a months-long effort to legalize recreational cannabis in New Jersey failed.

The Family Behind New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Expansion

The Honig family, whose son is honored in the bill’s name, has a story that demonstrates the importance of the new expansion in New Jersey’s medical cannabis program.

“Our son Jake Honig was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2012. Relapsed three times in five years. Two brain surgeries. 60 rounds of radiation, 20 chemotherapy,” Michael told the crowd at Tuesday’s press event. “He found time to smile every day.”

Jake was a part of the state’s medical cannabis program for nine months. When his parents learned the cancer was terminal, he was released from hospice with “a gallon of morphine and more Oxycontin than one home should have.” The medications had little effect on Jake’s symptoms.

“Every time we would dose him with medical marijuana, 20 minutes later his pain would subside. He was able to eat. He was able to drink. He was able to sleep,” Michael told the crowd. “But most of all, he was able to laugh again and the medical cannabis allowed for Jake’s personality to shine through. Medical cannabis proved not to be life-saving for Jake, but certainly, life-changing for us as a family.”

He spoke of one time a week before Jake passed away. Jake was eating some waffle fries and watching “Frozen” on the couch. Both of his parents started crying seeing the small moment of joy medical cannabis was able to provide their son in the twilight of his life. Honig said at that moment, they were experiencing something other parents don’t get to and it was thanks to medical cannabis.

After Jake passed away last year, the Honigs knew they had a mission to continue Jake’s fight. They’ve been able to do that through a non-profit they started in Jake’s honor.

“Advocates have waited for this, caregivers have waited for this, but most important, patients have waited for this. So we’re not going to hold it up any longer.”

Michael Honig

“The other way we promised to continue Jake’s fight is to raise awareness for medical marijuana,” Michael said. “The biggest obstacle we ran into was actually running out of [cannabis] medication. When we would run low or completely out of medication, we would have to substitute in the morphine and the Oxy. And not once did the morphine or the Oxy become as efficacious as the medical marijuana.”

Michael noted as a matter of fact, whenever they were forced into that situation, the side effects of the pharmaceuticals outweighed any benefits that Jake was actually getting. The thing the Honigs are most excited about in the bill named after their son is the fact the limits will be raised and others won’t run out of medicine as Jake did.

“Advocates have waited for this, caregivers have waited for this, but most important, patients have waited for this. So we’re not going to hold it up any longer,” Michael said.

When Murphy got up to speak after Michael, the governor got a quick laugh, asking how he was possibly supposed to follow up Michael’s heartfelt speech. “What am I supposed to say?” he quipped.

Murphy said he basically began meeting with the family the week Jake passed.

“Making medical marijuana available for treatment for kids like Jake has been a long complex journey and our entire state is indebted to you all and to Jake and his memory for walking us throughout this process,” said Murphy.

The place was packed with elected officials. Murphy spent a few minutes greeting them all by name before congratulating them on getting the effort done. He went to remind everyone one of his first act as governor was ordering a thorough review of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Murphy said in recent years a lot of people had come to a new understanding on how medical marijuana can help patients, “with this knowledge both minds and laws have been changed.”

TELL US, do you have access to medical cannabis where you live?

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