When New Jersey legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2010, it did so with a deliberation and carefulness that resulted in one of the more restrictive programs in the country.
A few states having legalized use of the drug for pleasure since then, New Jersey’s cautious approach might seem outdated, but we prefer prudent actions in areas such as drug use with a history of social harm.
Medical use of marijuana is picking up in the state. Of the roughly 6,000 pounds of cannibis sold in the 7-year-old program, 2,691 were bought last year. Likewise, of the 11,600 people who have received I.D. cards for the drug, 4,700 signed up in 2016.
Many more patients could benefit from marijuana if various impediments were removed.
There seem to be sufficient dispensaries for the controlled supply of the still-illegal drug. Of the five suppliers, one of the first was Compassionate Care in Egg Harbor Township.
But a report this year from the state Department of Health said only about 310 of the state’s 28,000 physicians are referring people for the program. Advocates such as the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey would like to see nurse practitioners included among those who can prescribe cannabis.
Other improvements they recommend include providing edible forms of the drug for adults, providing workplace protections for medical marijuana users, and continuous training of law enforcers on the rights of registered users.
A significant limitation of medical marijuana use seems certain to be loosened this year. Up to five health conditions may be added to the current list of about a dozen approved for cannabis treatment.
Last week, the state’s Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel considered seven areas of treatment that had been suggested by patients, advocates and 45 written petitions, according to NJ Spotlight. They included chronic muscle-skeletal pain, migraine, anxiety, asthma, chronic visceral pain, Tourette syndrome and chronic fatigue.
The panel — made up of physicians, pharmacologists and other health experts — decided to recommend all of the conditions except asthma and chronic fatigue.
Patients with the five conditions that might be added will need patience. The panel’s written recommendations will be submitted to the DOH; there will be a public comment period and hearing; the panel’s final recommendation will be submitted; and an additional round of comment and a hearing will take place before the state health commissioner decides on the changes.
That might seem too bureaucratic, but better to take a little time and allow for information and views that might ensure this excellent program continues to provide benefits with minimal side effects.