Gov. Phil Murphy Tuesday ordered a 60-day review of New Jersey’s “constrained” medical marijuana program, saying he would consider allowing home delivery, purchases beyond the 2-ounce limit and expanding the number of licensed dispensaries to improve patient access.
Murphy, however, did not mention anything about approving an expanding list of medical conditions — including Tourette syndrome, chronic pain and anxiety — a medical advisory panel recommended in October.
Gov. Chris Christie left office last week without his health commissioner making a decision, which rules say is due no later than April. Murphy did not take questions from reporters after signing the executive order.
Standing in front of a banner, “A Fairer New Jersey: Expanding Access to Medical Marijuana,” the week-old Democratic governor lamented how “politics replaced compassion” under the Christie administration, which reluctantly inherited the law in 2010. “I’m committed to reversing this,” he said.
Murphy rattled off a list of ideas he was willing to consider: providing home delivery services, allowing people to buy more than 2 ounces of dried marijuana a month, expanding the availability of edible products, permitting the six approved dispensary operators to open multiple retail locations and expediting the patient application process.
Some will need legislation, others he could do administratively, he said.
Murphy said his view offers “a very stark difference from the previous administration. It’s passed time (patients) be given the compassion they deserve.”
There are more than 15,000 card-holding members of the state medical marijuana program, compared to Michigan, a comparably-sized state, which has 220,000 members. The goal of the audit is to improve access for patients, who have encountered far too many bureaucratic hurdles in trying to participate, he said.
“We cannot turn a deaf ear to our veterans, the families of children facing terminal illness, or to any of the other countless New Jerseyans who only wish to be treated like people, and not criminals,” Murphy said. “And, doctors deserve the ability to provide their patients with access to medical marijuana free of stigmatization.”
Murphy invited to his press conference in Trenton a number of families who have benefitted from the existing program, but who wanted to see changes.
They included Mike and Janet Honig of Howell, whose 7-year-old son, Jake, died from cancer Sunday. Jake “the tank” as he was known, consumed cannabis oil his parents made for him to reduce his pain.
Murphy said his wife, Tammy, saw a story written about the boy on Friday, called the family and planned to meet the boy, but it was too late.
Janet Honig said she hoped the governor would lift the 2-ounce limit on cannabis sales, which “didn’t come close” to meeting her son’s needs. He would run out mid-month.
Princeton High School student Charles Griebell, 18, accompanied by his mother, Diana, has been a medical marijuana patient since last year because his doctor recommended it for his post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that is permitted by the state. But his most problematic diagnosis is Tourette syndrome, which is on the list of new conditions awaiting state approval.
Allowing other people with Tourette syndrome to use medical marijuana “would make such a difference,” Diana Griebell said. “It’s been completely life-changing, allowing him to do the things all teenagers should do.”
A soon-to-be Rutgers University student, Charles said the marijuana he vapes and consumes in the form of a butter “calms my body down. I’ve only had six absences this year, compared to 80 last year.”
Ken Wolski, the executive director for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, had a long list of improvements to the program he’d like Murphy to consider. People should be allowed to grow their own plants, and any medical professional with prescription-writing authority, not just doctors, should be permitted to recommend patients to the program.
“I’m very pleased the governor has taken such a strong stand to expand the program,” Wolski said. “Eight years into the program, we have 15,000 patients. In a state with 9 million people, this program is really a failure.”
Jeanette Hoffman, the spokeswoman for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy (NJ-RAMP), a group formed to fight Murphy’s plans to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, called the audit “appropriate.”
“It is appropriate for Governor Murphy to study the medical marijuana system in New Jersey to ensure public health and safety are being served,” Hoffman said.
“We hope that the Department of Health consults experts from public health and the addiction field, including medical doctors and prevention experts. We also expect the marijuana industry not to exert influence here, any more than the tobacco industry should influence DOH tobacco regulations.”