Murphy seeks to expand medical marijuana to more NJ residents
Gov. Phil Murphy Tuesday ordered the state Department of Health and Board of Medical Examiners to come up with ways to expand access to medical marijuana in the state within 60 days.
Murphy signed an executive order directing the review, which he says should end with specific proposals for rules and regulations that can be created or eliminated. Other changes, he said, would have to done with help from the Legislature.
“For eight years, medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey. However, the roadblocks put in place by the past administration mean that the law’s spirit has been stifled,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the review will consider whether to expand the number of conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana. He didn’t address whether his administration will approve petitions already endorsed by a review panel to add five qualifying conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety.
“The system we have inherited can best be described as medical marijuana in name only, more than in reality,” he said. “With a hostile administration tugging the strings of state bureaucracy, the ability of dispensaries to open has been slow footed. Doctors have faced stigmatization for participating. And non-smokeable and edible products that could benefit patients have been blocked from the market.”
Murphy said there are only around 15,000 patients are in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, compared with almost 220,000 in Michigan and over 135,000 in Arizona.
“We have been lapped. We are late. The programs are far too constrained, and we have to open it up and get it back on track as fast as possible,” Murphy said.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said he’s very encouraged the new administration will be more open to ensuring medical marijuana works.
“Only about 15,000 people have actually gotten access to this program, in a state with 9 million people,” Wolski said. “This program really is a failure. It’s not meeting the needs of the patients it was designed to meet.”
Among those on hand for the announcement were the family of 7-year-old Jake “The Tank” Honig, a Howell boy who died Sunday of cancer, and many other advocates for a more accommodating approach to medical marijuana.
Nine-year-old Mikey Lucas of South River is epileptic and hypotonic, though now with the help of cannabis oil can finally go outside without having hundreds of seizures a day, said his mother, Jean.
“He can swim in the pool with his siblings now. He can go out in the backyard,” Lucas said. “He’s not perfect. It’s not perfect. But he’s being able to be a 9-year-old, as much as he can be.”
The oil that helps Mikey can’t be bought directly. Instead Jean Lucas buys flour, cooks it and makes it into an oil he can have, a process that takes 12 to 15 hours. She hopes the Murphy administration changes the program so dispensaries can sell what her son and other patients need.
“It’s so easy: Go in, get it, go home,” Lucas said. “Treat your child. Give your child the life that they deserve. And let them live.”
Murphy specifically talked about selling the cannabis oil, rather than requiring the flour-to-oil processing at home, in the context of addressing the concerns voiced to him by Mike Honig, the father whose son died Sunday.
Murphy also said the review of the program should consider ways to expand the number of dispensaries, speed up licensing, make it easier for doctors to join and prescribe marijuana, home delivery and more types of edibles.
“If we get the medical marijuana reality in this state into the place it needs to get to, it is a – it’s not the only weapon, but it is a significant weapon in our fight to break the back of the devastating opioid crisis,” Murphy said.
A second change suggested by the Honig family, changing the 2 ounce limit on how much medical marijuana can be bought at a time, would have to be approved by the Legislature, Murphy said.
The changes to medical marijuana are separate from Murphy’s push for legalizing recreational marijuana.
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