An early draft of a new bill outlines ways legislators hope to expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program even more and improve accessibility for patients, doctors and caregivers.
Gov. Phil Murphy and state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal announced sweeping reforms of the program earlier this year, which included adding more qualified conditions, lowering enrollment fees and creating dispensary expansion opportunities.
Upcoming legislation by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, would expand the program even further in several areas.
• The bill would add even more qualifying medical conditions to the current list, which was updated in March to include anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders and chronic visceral pain.
• Current law only allows physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The bill would change that to include any health care provider, like a physician assistant or advanced nurse practitioner, who is authorized in New Jersey to prescribe controlled dangerous substances.
• Registered patients and caregivers with medical marijuana programs in other states would be able to possess and administer medical marijuana in New Jersey, but would not be able to buy it from a state alternative treatment center, or dispensary.
• The bill would increase the maximum purchase amount in a 30-day period from 2 ounces to 2.5 ounces. The maximum would eventually increase to 3 ounces by July 1, 2019. Those limits would not apply to hospice or terminally ill patients.
• The new law would remove limits on edible forms of medical marijuana for minors, and patients would be able to buy medical marijuana products from any state authorized dispensary, not just the one they are registered at under current law.
• The Department of Health would be required to evaluate whether the number of dispensaries is sufficient enough to meet patient demand, and if not, take applications to issue more permits. At least 15 percent of new treatment center permits would be issued to minority, woman or veteran-owned businesses.
• Alternative treatment centers would be able to establish a medical advisory board to advise on business operations.
• Qualifying patients and caregivers could not be discriminated against when enrolling in schools and higher education institutions, or when renting or leasing property, solely on the basis of their medical marijuana participation. However, schools, institutions and landlords will not be required to do anything that would jeopardize a grant or license privilege based on federal law.
• The bill also sets up employment protections for patients. Employers could not take action against the employee based on that person’s participation in the medical marijuana program, or a positive test for marijuana. The employer would have to prove that a worker’s use of medical marijuana impaired their ability to fulfill job responsibilities.
The legislation is not final and subject to change before going through a state committee, Vitale’s legislative officials said.
South Jersey patients and providers have expressed concern with supply of and demand for medical marijuana since more conditions were added, prompting another 1,000 residents to join the program within a month, according to state Department of Health officials.
State Department of Health officials at a recent budget hearing in Trenton said there are no overall supply shortages at dispensaries except for times when a specific strain is not available.