TRENTON — New Jersey's medical marijuana program could soon be expanded to cover perhaps hundreds of thousands of additional Garden State residents.

The clock is ticking on a final decision.

On Oct. 25, the state's Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel recommended to the health commissioner that the following qualifying conditions be added to the state's program:

  • Anxiety
  • Migraines
  • Tourette's Syndrome
  • Chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders
  • Chronic pain of visceral origin

The recommendation was made following the panel's in-depth review of petitions from interested parties. Petitions were submitted in August 2016. The panel rejected petitions requesting that asthma and chronic fatigue syndrome be added.

The Commissioner of Health has up to 180 days from the vote to decide if the recommended conditions should be added officially, the Department of Health noted.

Current commissioner Cathleen Bennett is leaving her post this week to become president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association on Nov. 9. The DOH did not comment on whether Bennett would make a decision before exiting.

The 180-day deadline does not pause or reset with a change in leadership or administration.

"We're hoping that the commissioner will act on a timely manner on this and expand the medical marijuana program," said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey. "With these recommendations, the medical marijuana program is poised to expand exponentially."

The group believes hundreds of thousands, if not a million-plus, residents of the state could begin to qualify for marijuana therapy if the recommendations were approved.

If elected as the next governor of New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy has said he would sign legislation legalizing marijuana for recreational use within 100 days of his term's start. Republican challenger Kim Guadagno said she'd make some changes to improve access to medical marijuana, and decriminalize its possession, but she's not on board with legalization of recreational use.

Wolski said he's looking forward to reform on the issue no matter who wins the election. But campaign promises only go so far.

"Nothing's a slam dunk in the New Jersey Legislature," he said.

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