This week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to expand access to the state’s medical marijuana program.
In the executive order, Murphy called on the New Jersey Department of Health and Board of Medical Examiners to review the state’s existing medical marijuana program. Murphy asked them to eliminate barriers to access for patients suffering from ailments that medical marijuana could help treat.
“We need to treat our residents with compassion,” Murphy said in a statement on the signing. “We cannot turn a deaf ear to our veterans, the families of children facing terminal illness, or to any of the other countless New Jerseyans who only wish to be treated like people, and not criminals. And, doctors deserve the ability to provide their patients with access to medical marijuana free of stigmatization.”
The statement from Murphy’s office went on to say that these patients are suffering from barriers put in place by the administration of New Jersey’s former governor Chris Christie. “New Jersey’s highly stringent rules have means countless residents who could benefit from medical marijuana are left out of the program,” Murphy said.
The review will take place over 60 days. Officials will then give their recommendation on what new things are needed to help patients and what needs to follow Christie out.
Another issue currently facing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program is that many of the state’s doctors have been generally skeptical out about prescribing marijuana to patients. Murphy’s office said that issue is exacerbated by state law requiring them to publicly register in order to become certified prescribers of medicinal marijuana.
“Many aspects of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program are written in statute,” Murphy said. “But our law is eight years old. Since it took effect, significant medical research has been conducted.”
“Our goal is to modernize the program in New Jersey, bring it up to current standards, and put patients first,” said Murphy.
New Jersey activists are excited to see the ball moving after years in a holding pattern during the Christie era.
“It’s great to see a governor in New Jersey that doesn’t just say he’s compassionate and supports sensible policies, but actually does,” said New Jersey NORML Executive Director Evan Nison. Nison has worked on the issue in New Jersey for a decade.
Nison sees this executive order as confirmation that Murphy is planning on making good on his promise to update our marijuana laws as quickly as possible. “I’m very much looking forward to seeing both medical marijuana expanding and a robust adult-use program be born in New Jersey in the coming years,” Nison said.
As for those Democrats in the state house who came out against Murphy’s legalization plan early, Nison said, “New Jersey is an interesting place. We have some fairly conservative Democrats and some fairly liberal Republicans. The fact that this will not be a unanimous issue isn’t a surprise, but it is still an issue widely supported among New Jersey residents and the legislature.”
Following the election last year, Nison noted New Jersey has a shot at being the first state to skip decriminalization and go straight to legalization. Nison said if New Jersey makes that jump, it is more important than ever to set a new standard for treating people with former convictions fairly in the legal cannabis market. He also called for expungements to be free and streamlined or automatic.
In Washington, D.C., the Marijuana Policy Project was optimistic about the future of cannabis in New Jersey.
“We are certainly encouraged by the Governor’s support of expanding the medical marijuana program, which can happen more swiftly than a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adults can be implemented,” said Legislative Counsel Kate M. Bell.
According to Bell, MPP is hoping that the new health commissioner will immediately approve the new qualifying conditions that were already recommended by the advisory panel, given that “those recommendations came after extensive consideration and public comment, but languished on the desk of the former commissioner.”
As for other ways to improve the program, Bell says the MPP agrees with Murphy that “the state should allow patients access to a greater array of products, license additional businesses — which will increase competition and thus reduce prices for patients — and permit home delivery to improve access for seriously ill patients.”
Murphy’s legalization effort is expected to materialize in the coming months.
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