Beginning next week, the state Health Department will have new legal authority to expand the supply and demand for medical cannabis in New Jersey — a major priority for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration as the effort to legalize recreational marijuana is looking unlikely this year.
For the first time, the department will be able to create a permit-granting system that divides up the industry between cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers. The six operating nonprofits which serve the 46,300 registered patients control all aspects of the process, as will the next six which were awarded contracts in December.
Issuing permits for the various segments of the medicinal cannabis business is expected to open the door to smaller entrepreneurs, promote the industry’s growth and generate more medicine as roughly 2,000 patients join the program every month.
Other new rules that take effect on May 20 will permit the health commissioner to add medical conditions that qualify patients for the program. This would replace the process, adopted under the 2010 law, which requires the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel to hold multiple public hearings over six months before it makes a recommendation to the health commissioner. The more conditions the state adds, the greater the demand will be for the program.
“These rules solidify key program reforms to ensure greater patient access to this effective therapy,” state Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal announced. “With these changes, the Department will be able to add conditions more rapidly, remove barriers for minors and increase supply of product available.”
The new rules also eliminate the requirement that minor patients must be recommended by a psychiatrist before they are enrolled in the program — a burden in the early years as doctors resisted being associated with what is still an illegal act under federal law.
The rule-making process in state government requires changes to be advertised in the New Jersey Register, a biweekly publication, and solicit oral and written comment from the public. The amended rules are published again before they take effect.
The latest rule changes are scheduled to appear in the May 20 edition of the Register.
Many of the rule changes took effect 14 months ago under executive order by the governor. They include:
- Reducing the registration fee for qualifying patients and their caregivers from $200 to $100, and adding seniors and veterans to those eligible for the reduced registration fee of $20;
- Allowing patients to designate up to two primary caregivers instead of just one, to buy their cannabis at dispensaries;
- Adding anxiety, several forms of chronic pain, migraines, Tourette syndrome, and Opioid Use Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions;
- Expanding the forms of medical marijuana available to include oil-based products.
State legislators are expected to approve a new medicinal marijuana law that would usher in even broader changes, but its fate is tied to the legalization bill, which doesn’t have enough support to pass yet.