Not long ago, New Jersey had a medical marijuana program restricted to no more than 20,000 people, but that was the Gov. Chris Christie era. The campaign cannabis promises of new Gov. Philip Murphy are quickly becoming true. New Jersey is not only shaping up as the next big market for cannabis entrepreneurs, it’s also a good civics lesson on how one election can radically change public policy.
Murphy, an advocate for both medical and recreational marijuana during the campaign, acted in his first two months in office to expand the number of conditions that can be legally treated in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. That’s something Christie had refused to do, saying it was a backdoor to legalization of recreational marijuana. Murphy said Christie’s view constrained the system. He’s expanded the conditions that can be legally treated with cannabis to include chronic pain, anxiety and migraines.
In announcing the expansion, Murphy said marijuana patients “should be treated as patients, not criminals. We will be guided by science.”
Murphy made his decision based on a review of the system he ordered after taking office in January. Among the other review panel recommendations:
• Cutting registration and renewal fees from $200 to $100 every two years
• Cutting that amount to $20 for senior citizens and veterans
• Allowing an unlimited supply to those in hospice
• Allowing edibles for all patients
• Studying the possibility of marijuana home delivery
• Elimination of the need for physicians to sign onto a state registry before prescribing medical marijuana
New Jersey officials expect this to lead to an expansion of the number of medical marijuana patients, the number of doctors willing to prescribe medical marijuana and the number of marijuana dispensaries in the state. New Jersey Deputy Health Commissioner Jackie Cornell reported that there are more than 19,000 people in the state’s marijuana program. That number is expected to jump to 40,000 by the end of 2018.
New Jersey Recreational Marijuana
Murphy has remained steadfast in his mission to get legal recreational marijuana approved by the end of 2018. If so, New Jersey would join Massachusetts as the only state east of the Mississippi River with legal recreational marijuana (Maine is still hammering out regulations for its legal marijuana program).
The New Jersey Legislature is considering different proposals. Whether there is enough support for legalizing recreational marijuana in the legislature remains to be seen.
Projections on a potential New Jersey recreational marijuana market estimate it would generate as much as $1 billion a year. One of the issues to be decided is how high of a tax rate the state would put on marijuana. State lawmakers have said they hope to create a compromise bill and have it before Murphy by the end of the year.