A renaissance is coming to New Jersey’s long embattled medical marijuana program.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced a long list of reforms Tuesday morning, including lowering fees for patients and caregivers, adding five approved medical conditions and proposing legislation to increase monthly product limit for patients.
Patients receiving hospice care would be eligible for an unlimited supply of cannabis.
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“We are changing the restrictive culture of our medical marijuana program,” he said. “Some of these changes will take time, but we are committed to getting it done for all New Jersey residents who can be helped by access to medical marijuana.”
Effective immediately, patients suffering from anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic visceral pain will be eligible for the pot program.
The registration fee is also being lowered from $200 to $100 as of Tuesday. Veterans and people 65 years and older will be eligible for a $20 discount.
The governor is also allowing doctors who prescribe marijuana not to appear on a public registry. Murphy says there was a sense that doctors who prescribed the drug faced a stigma.
Murphy's decision comes roughly a decade after the state implemented its medical marijuana program, enacted under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, but slowly implemented under Republican Chris Christie, who had a skeptical view of marijuana.
In January, Murphy signed an executive order calling on the New Jersey Department of Health to review the existing program. Almost exactly two months later, the department's recommendations are now being implemented, Murphy said.
The announcement comes as the new governor pushes for legalized recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
“We will have a program that is compassionate, progressive and, at long last, meets the needs of patients,” he said. “We’re going to make it easier for patients.”
Murphy added that he would like to eventually see opioid addiction added to the growing list of approved conditions. He called cannabis “an offensive weapon” to the growing crisis.
Currently, 18,574 patients, 536 physicians, and 869 caregivers participate in the program.
Ken Wolski, the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, welcomed the program's expansion because it isn't currently meeting the state's needs. He says supply of medical cannabis continues to be a problem that the Department of Health will have to address.
Murphy said to address supply, he's proposing changing regulations to let treatment centers specialize in specific areas, like cultivating, dispensing or manufacturing.
Wolski says the potential for demand in New Jersey could be about 1 million patients.
The announcement comes as Murphy pushes for legalized recreational marijuana in New Jersey. He said Tuesday he views the medical program's expansion as strictly a health issue not affecting his efforts at recreational legalization.