TRENTON — A major expansion is underway for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program – more conditions that qualify, less expensive to sign up, more and stronger medicine allowed each month and an expansion in the number of dispensaries.

The last of those points appears crucial, as there are currently only five centers, with a sixth approved and expected to open in Secaucus this spring.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the state will amend the program’s rules and issue waivers to allow the already approved facilities to open satellite locations. It will also create permits for new retailers that don’t grow or process marijuana, and he wants the Legislature to allow for-profit entities to attract more investors and providers.

“Expanding access to the program makes no sense if we continue to require residents, many suffering chronic pain, to drive many miles from their home,” Murphy said.

Five medical conditions that were recommended by a review panel last October have now been added to the program, including anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome and chronic pain. In the future, the health commissioner can quickly add conditions without a lengthy review.

Those conditions add tens of thousands, and perhaps more than 100,000, eligible patients to a program that currently has 18,574 patients registered. Even advocates for the change worry about short-term supply problems for the next few months.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to get working on this right away, to get new licensees and the expansion of the current ones,” said Bill Caruso, a member of the steering committee for New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.

It can take six to nine months to get medical marijuana from seed to market-ready. It can take even longer for new dispensaries to open, giving local zoning issues and security requirements.

Air Force veteran Laura Carter said she is pleased that new, closer dispensaries might end the need for what’s now a two and a half hour bus trip from Trenton to Cranbury. But she worries about straining facilities that in some cases already have 45-day waits for new patients.

“At a few dispensaries, there’s long lines to get in at certain times of the day. So the retail locations, I hope they came ASAP,” Carter said.

Among the changes planned by the Murphy administration are:

  • Reducing the fee to sign up for the program from $200 to $100, with discounted fees of $20 for seniors and military veterans.
  • Eliminating the requirement for doctors who wish to prescribe marijuana to register with the state and be listed on a public registry. The registry will stay online but become optional. Any doctor that can prescribe controlled dangerous substances would be able to prescribe marijuana.
  • Allowing patients to designate two caregivers who could pick up their marijuana prescriptions, rather than one.
  • Repealing a 10 percent limit on the THC content on medical marijuana products.
  • Ending the need for minors to undergo a psychiatrist evaluation to register for the program.

Some other changes are proposed that would require the Legislature to change state law:

  • Allow edibles for all patients, not just kids.
  • Let patients register to purchase marijuana from more than alternative treatment center.
  • Allow marijuana to be used as a “first-line treatment,” rather than a last resort after other, more conventional therapies are found not to be helpful.
  • Increase the maximum amount of product a patient can buy each month from 2 ounces to 4 ounces.
  • Permit an unlimited supply for patients receiving hospice care.

Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, said the elimination of the doctor registry is a key change because some doctors didn’t participate for fear of social stigmatization.

“Going to your regular doctor who you’re seeing for your serious medical condition and having that doctor be able to recommend marijuana therapy is very important,” Wolski said.

Murphy said additional changes to the program will be considered, including home delivery. He doesn’t favor allowing people to grow marijuana at home for personal use, saying it needs proper regulation even if people want to grow it for medical reasons.

The governor said he’d like the Department of Health to consider adding recovery from opioid addiction to the list of eligible conditions.

“For all the money we’ve spent in this state to get at the root of this awful epidemic, the fact that the medical marijuana system has been gummed up is an obvious, potent weapon that we’ve left on the table,” Murphy said.

A Department of Health report recommending changes to the program also says the state will work to exempt medicinal marijuana purchases from the state’s sales tax.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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