Updated on January 11, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The cannabis industry is continually evolving, including the medical and recreational programs that many states have established. On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed off on several expansions and changes to the state’s existing medical cannabis program, according to WABC, a New York TV station.
NJ Expands Medical Marijuana Program’s Qualifying Conditions
The state’s most significant amendment to the cannabis program is the addition of five new qualifying conditions, which are:
Doctors in the state can begin recommending marijuana for patients with the five newly accepted conditions immediately. By extending the list of conditions that qualify New Jersey residents for cannabis products, the state will add more patients to their program — which currently includes 18,874 patients — and boost business for the existing marijuana companies throughout the Garden State. In fact, the addition of these types of chronic pain is expected to draw in thousands more.
What to Know About Updates to the NJ Medical Marijuana Program
Of course, change brings about new rules and regulations. Be sure to keep the following points in mind as you adjust to these new changes to New Jersey’s medical cannabis program:
Expanded Alternative Treatment Centers: Instead of dispensaries, New Jersey has five Alternative Treatment Centers in Bellmawr, Cranbury, Montclair, Woodbridge and Egg Harbor — a sixth establishment in Secaucus hasn’t opened yet. Previously, patients had to travel far to get to one of these nonprofit centers and obtain their medicine. Now, these centers can open satellite retail sites, a new cultivation location and convert into for-profit businesses. This will allow each center to customize their business plans, such as by offering unique strains or discounts.
Fewer Doctor Limitations: Previously, physicians had to register with the state’s Department of Health and appear on a public registry to be able to recommend cannabis medicine to their patients. This public listing deterred many physicians from joining due to the negative stigma associated with the still federally banned substance. In fact, only 536 of the 28,000 doctors in the state are registered. Now, any licensed doctor in New Jersey can suggest patients for the medical marijuana program discretely. This will give patients more access to reliable doctors and also increase cannabis sales throughout the state.
Price Reductions: Rather than the previous fee of $200 every two years to join the state’s program, patients can now sign up for $100, which is still due every two years. Citizens who are 65 or older and military veterans have also been added to the group of patients who must only pay a $20 fee.
Administrative Changes: Murphy has separated New Jersey’s medical marijuana program into its own division of the health department and named a former member of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, Jeffrey Brown, the assistant commissioner of this sector. This will allow the division’s staff to put more focus into the program. Gov. Murphy is suggesting to legislators that the state should raise its monthly purchase limit from two ounces to four ounces, so patients do not need to make as many trips to the store for more medicine. He is also recommending allowing adult patients to access edible cannabis products — which former Gov. Chris Christie previously limited to minors — and permitting hospice patients to have an unlimited supply of the medicine.
These changes are all part of the first stage of an expansive set of updates Gov. Murphy intends to make to the program. Jackie Cornell, New Jersey’s Deputy Health Commissioner, also said the administration is planning to license more businesses to grow, cultivate and sell cannabis products. The entire process — including writing the rules, distributing licenses, constructing the buildings and receiving final approval — is expected to take about a year.
What These Updates Mean to the Medical Marijuana Industry
Gov. Phil Murphy seems to be everything right in our eyes. Though New Jersey’s medical marijuana program isn’t the most inclusive in the country, he’s moving in the right direction by adding reasonable qualifying conditions, lowering the price to join and increasing patient access to doctors and dispensaries. If every state were to follow in these footsteps, our country would be well on its way to becoming a nation that ultimately accepts marijuana for all its incredible medicinal powers and encourages patients rather than judging or criticizing them.
With 29 states and Washington, D.C., on board, we’re more than halfway there. Hopefully, changes like the ones Gov. Murphy is making will be contagious, and those other 21 states can start playing catch-up.
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