NJ: Eyeing Expansion, Governor Orders Review Of State’s Medical Marijuana Program

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In the nascent days of the Murphy administration, executive orders covering campaign issues have provided the governor with an opportunity to show what a difference this administration will be from the previous one. Tuesday, the point was made on the issue of the state’s medical marijuana program.

“For eight years, medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey. However, the roadblocks put in place by the past administration mean that the law’s spirit has been stifled,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

It has been stifled by a restrictive law that limited the types of conditions that could be treated, who could be treated, how they could be treated and where they could get the product. The result? Five dispensaries across the state and just 15,000 patients receiving marijuana-based treatment. In comparably-sized Michigan, 220,000 patients participate in the program. Tuesday, Murphy said that’s about to change.

“In a minute or two, I will sign an executive order directing the New Jersey Department of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners to review all aspects of our existing medical marijuana program, with a specific focus on expanding patient access,” he said.

Murphy said he wants to see new rules and regulations in 60 days. The news was met with applause by Gulf War veteran Lee Bridgewater, who was a strong advocate for the inclusion of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as an eligible condition. That happened just over a year ago. He welcomes the change from the previous administration.

“We’re the most densely populated state in the country and yet we only have 15,000 people enrolled in our medical marijuana program, after PTSD was added, which is the only mental health condition,” he said. “Something’s wrong with that number.”

Murphy’s move would inject new life into the program by making it easier for dispensaries to expand to more locations, and could give children access to medical cannabis for pain relief, and help with seizures and other medical conditions. Mike and Janet Honig had to go to great lengths to concoct a cannabis-based remedy for their child, 7-year-old Jake, who died after a 5-year battle with brain cancer on Sunday.

“Because we can get it from a dispensary in a flower form, and Jake is 7 years old so he can’t smoke or vape, so we need to extract the cannabinoids and other medicinal value of the plant into an oil form, which we take and rub inside of his gums so he doesn’t get high,” explained Mike. “So it’s a process that we would do in our kitchen to extract the cannabinoid from the flower.”

The governor can’t change the entire program by executive order, nor can he create a legal marijuana program. That is going to have to come from the Legislature. Tuesday, the governor signaled he’s ready to sign a marijuana reform law, as he put it, but making a new law is likely to take considerably longer than an executive order.