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Big Changes Coming to N.J.’s Medical Marijuana Program as Gov. Murphy signs Expansion Bill

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New Jersey has added more than 30,000 patients to its medical marijuana program since Gov. Phil Murphy took office last January, but now the state will soon have a market better suited to serve those patients.

Murphy on Tuesday signed a bill that overhauls the state’s medical marijuana program, following months of debate and negotiation with lawmakers that saw an effort to legalize recreational marijuana here fail.

The new law will likely add dozens of medical marijuana providers, greatly increasing capacity from the six providers currently operating.

NJ Law to Relax Quantity & Frequency Restrictions

It will also take steps to make it easier for patients to get medical marijuana by relaxing rules on how much they can buy and how many times they must see a doctor to qualify for the program.

The state’s program has been strained by the influx of patients, with complaints of long lines at marijuana dispensaries and supply shortages.

“We were one of the first states to have a medical marijuana regime…it just didn’t take off,” Murphy said Tuesday before signing the legislation during a ceremony at Tommy’s Tavern and Tap in Freehold. “A lot of us have come to an understanding of how medical marijuana can be used to help patients.”

Governor Signs Bill Named After Ewing Sarcoma Sufferer Jake Honig

The governor signed the bill in a ceremony at Tommy’s Tavern in Freehold, a nod to the problems with the medical marijuana program that Murphy hopes to alleviate with this new law, which was named after Jake Honig.

Jake was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2012, a cancer that traveled to his brain. He underwent dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, proton radiation and surgeries at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

His parents, Mike and Janet Honig of Howell, bought dried cannabis and from it made oil for their son, and would run out of medicine halfway through the month. The medicinal marijuana law enacted in 2010 set a strict two ounce monthly purchasing limit.

Mike Honig had previously expressed frustration that it had taken lawmakers so long to change the rules of the program to allow patients to buy more marijuana.

“When Jake was off his medical marijuana, he would vomit, he would be nauseous. He was would be in so much pain, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sleep. He was agitated,” Mike Honig previously told NJ Advance Media.

“When we would start to run low, we would substitute it with oxycontin or morphine and he became angry and belligerent. The side effects … would make him cry,” he said.

Jake died Jan. 21, 2018, just a few days after Murphy took office.

“Jake battled for five years … Jake underwent brutal treatments,” Mike Honig said Tuesday, adding that medical marijuana was the only thing that allowed Jake’s personality to shine through.

On top of allowing patients to buy more marijuana each month and adding providers to the program, the new law will end the tax charged on medical marijuana purchases by 2022. Patients currently pay the 6.625 percent state sales tax.

Additional Benefits of the New Bill

  • Reduce the frequency of doctor visits from four times a year to once a year to verify whether a patient remains eligible for the program. Patients have long complained about the costs and bureaucratic hassles involved with the program.
  • Expand the amount of cannabis patients are allowed to buy each month from 2 ounces to 3 ounces for 18 months, and an amount to be determined by the cannabis commission after that. Patients with terminal illnesses would have no set limit.
  • Allow institutions like nursing homes and hospice centers to buy cannabis for patients, acting as a conduit between the dispensary and the patient.
  • Grant out-of-state medical cannabis patients permission to buy medicine while visiting New Jersey, for no longer than six months.
  • Permit municipalities that host dispensaries to impose a tax of no more than 2% on the business.
  • Set a goal of awarding 15% of licenses to minority owners and 15% to women, disabled people and veterans.
  •  Permit home delivery.

Joining Murphy and the Honigs at the signing ceremony were state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, and Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth.

Danielsen called the bill the most “progressive and innovative” medical marijuana plan in the country. Whether or not it is that remains to be seen in how the law is implemented. But it will help patients, including those like Jake Honig, who have previously been limited by the program.

Click to read full story on NJ.com

Featured Image via Flickr CC ByNC 2.0

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