Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday several immediate changes that will allow the state’s medicinal marijuana program to expand far beyond the 18,500 patients who are enrolled now. The biggest change: people with specific kinds of chronic pain, anxiety, migraines and Tourette’s syndrome may ask their doctor to recommend them to the program.
Here’s a quick look at what’s changed and how it may affect you.
Q: What are the medical conditions that qualify a person for the program?
Before Tuesday, and still in effect:
• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
• Multiple sclerosis
• Terminal cancer
• Muscular dystrophy
• Inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease
• Any terminal illness with a prognosis of less than 12 months
• Seizure disorders including epilepsy, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma qualify if traditional medicine has failed
• Severe or chronic pain, severe nausea or vomiting and wasting syndrome caused by HIV/AIDS and cancer
Since Murphy’s announcement, these were immediately added:
• Tourette’s syndrome
• Chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, which include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia and opioid use disorder
• Chronic pain affecting internal organs, such as pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and neurogenic bladder and bowel dysfunction
Q: Can I simply walk into a dispensary now and get medical marijuana?
A: No. You still need a recommendation from a doctor and to apply to the state. If you are approved, you will get a card saying you are enrolled in the program.
Q: Can I now go to my regular physician to get what amounts to a prescription?
A: Until now, you could only get a recommendation (technically not a prescription because pot is not FDA-approved) for medical marijuana from doctors who agreed to have their names publicly disclosed in a state registry.
That registry, which includes only about 500 doctors, will be phased out. This could encourage more physicians — worried about a backlash from disapproving patients or medical peers — to recommend patients to the program.
So, you can start the process by asking your treating physician whether you might benefit from cannabis. Any doctor who is allowed to prescribe controlled dangerous substances, like opioids, may recommend cannabis.
If your doctor won’t participate, you can still try to find one on the public registry, which will still exist for doctors who voluntarily want to identify themselves. The list may be found here.
Q: How does the doctor determine if I should get a recommendation for marijuana?
A: A physician must be able to prove he or she has a “bona fide” relationship with a patient. That means the doctor is actively treating the person for at least a year, has conducted a comprehensive review of the patient’s file, or has seen the patient at least four times.
Q: Is cannabis covered by my healthcare policy?
Q: How much does medical marijuana cost?
A: Prices vary but an ounce is roughly $500, not including the sales tax. New Jersey has the most expensive cannabis program, a problem Murphy said he hopes will be addressed when there is greater competition. State law allows patients to buy a maximum of two ounces a month, but Murphy said he would sign a law they pass allowing as much as four ounces.
Q: If my doctor recommends cannabis, will I be protected from getting fired from my job if drug tests are required?
A: No. The law does not offer workplace protections. Patients have sued to regain their job and in most instances, have lost. Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.
Q: Where can I buy my medical marijuana?
A: There are five dispensaries operating in the state, located in Montclair, Egg Harbor, Woodbridge, Cranbury and Bellmawr. A sixth, in Secaucus, is expected to open later in the spring. The governor is allowing them to open satellite locations to improve patient access, and some have already begun expansion, anticipating this decision. Other dispensaries will likely be allowed to open, but don’t expect that to happen right way.
Q: What kinds of medical marijuana are available?
A: All five dispensaries sell various strains of smokable dried “flower.” Breakwater Treatment and Wellness in Cranbury and Compassionate Sciences in Bellmawr also sell oils and topical products.
Q: Can I grow my own weed?
A: No. That continues to be illegal.
Q: May I have cannabis delivered to my home?
A: Not yet. The health department is exploring delivery models “that would ensure timely and accurate delivery of product to patients, driver safety and compliance with applicable state law,” according to a program audit submitted Tuesday by Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.
Q: Where may I find more information about the program?
A: The state Health Department website, which has its own question-and-answer page for patients, physicians and dispensaries.
Read the report recommending changes to the medicinal marijuana program.