Just as thousands of tourists flock to the Jersey Shore for the Fourth of July, the New Jersey medical marijuana program is on the verge of opening its doors to out-of-state patients for the first time.
Under the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, visitors with medical marijuana cards from their home states would be able to carry and use medical marijuana here, up to the proposed 3-ounce legal limit.
Raven Guillmette, store manager, measures out a strain of marijuana called Cherry Diesel. Higher Grade dispensary offers fine cannabis for medicinal purposes. Denver, CO Friday, April 13, 2018 @dhoodhood (Photo: Doug Hood)
But there’s one big problem: They wouldn’t be allowed to buy medical marijuana here unless they have approval from a New Jersey doctor.
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The only other options are to break the law — either purchasing weed on the black market or bringing it from home. Only patients registered in the New Jersey medical marijuana program can buy the drug at a New Jersey dispensary.
Transporting illegal drugs, including medical marijuana purchased legally in another state, across state lines — even between two states with legal weed — could constitute drug trafficking, with a potential five-year prison sentence, under federal law.
«It would be kind of a catch-22 for patients,” said Carly Wolf, a state policies coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “We have a lot of people coming to the state who are stranded, forced to choose between breaking the law or their own health and well-being.»
Any move to protect out-of-state patients would place New Jersey in rare company. It would be just the eighth state, including Washington, D.C., to specifically address medical marijuana-using visitors from other jurisdictions.
Currently, the New Jersey medical marijuana law — and its protections — applies only to residents of the state, similar to neighboring New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Watch the videos at the top of the page for a look at how medical marijuana has played out in the Garden State.
The medical marijuana laws vary in those other states:
- Arizona: Visiting medical marijuana patients can possess and use medical marijuana, but can’t purchase it from a state dispensary.
- Arkansas: Out-of-state patients can use, possess and purchase medical marijuana from a state dispensary (2.5 ounces every 14 days) if they have a medical marijuana card from their home state.
- New Hampshire: Visiting qualifying patients can possess and use medical marijuana, but can’t purchase it from a state dispensary.
- Oklahoma: Visiting medical marijuana patients can apply for a 30-day temporary medical marijuana license, allowing them to use, possess and purchase cannabis from state dispensaries.
- Pennsylvania: Only caregivers for children registered with their home states’ medical marijuana programs can purchase cannabis at a state dispensary.
- Rhode Island: Only out-of-state medical marijuana patients from states that track cannabis sales can purchase medical marijuana with two forms of identification. New Jersey isn’t included.
- Washington, D.C.: Patients from 16 states with «functionally-equivalent medical marijuana programs» — including New Jersey — are allowed to purchase medicinal cannabis at dispensaries.
“The ideal situation would be allowing out-of-state patients to enter the state legal dispensary, show their ID and be served, as if they were an in-state patient,” Wolf said, a New Jersey native.
But the out-of-state language makes up just two paragraphs of New Jersey’s 124-page medical marijuana bill and has gotten little scrutiny from lawmakers.
State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, is one of the bill’s primary sponsors and most vocal advocates for medical marijuana expansion. But he wasn’t aware of the bill’s restriction on out-of-state patients until a reporter asked him about it.
«Unless someone gives me a really good explanation for that (restriction), it’s just another flaw in this bill as far as I’m concerned. You can fill an opioid prescription at any CVS in the country. I’m not sure why marijuana would be treated any differently,” O’Scanlon said. «That won’t affect New Jersey residents, but you want want to be able to have compassion for people. And compassion shouldn’t end at the New Jersey border.»
The «flaws» referred to by O’Scanlon began to reveal themselves after the push for New Jersey marijuana legalization stalled out last month. Instead, entire sections of the failed legal weed law have been essentially cut-and-paste into the Honig Act, which was designed with a specific focus on medical marijuana.
If New Jersey legalized marijuana, out-of-state patients wouldn’t need any additional protection from arrest.
In addition to raising the monthly limit for medical marijuana patients, the Honig Act would:
- Legalize edible forms of medical marijuana, including food and oils, for adults.
- Establish a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the program and issue licenses for new dispensaries, cultivators, manufacturers and transporters.
- Remove the requirement that doctors maintain a «bona fide» relationship with patients in order to get them in the program, potentially clearing the way for patients to get qualified on the first visit.
- Allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate outdoor cannabis consumption areas for patients.
- Permit home deliveries of medical marijuana to patients over 21 years old.
The Honig Act passed both the Senate and Assembly with overwhelming support. It is awaiting a signature from Murphy.
Murphy earlier this month directed the Department of Health to begin the process of issuing over 100 licenses for new medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivators and manufacturers.