New Jersey’s medical marijuana program would get a sweeping overhaul to make it far easier for patients to qualify and obtain cannabis under a bill that cleared a Senate committee on Monday.
Action on the measure follows years of complaints that the medical marijuana program was too restrictive to meet patients needs, and came on the same day lawmakers discussed a measure that would legalize recreational weed.
The measure will be named “Jake’s Law” after Jake Honig of Howell, a 7-year-old boy who died from brain cancer in January. Jake was helped by cannabis oil but his parents were forced to use it sparingly because of the state’s strict limits on how much could be purchased. Those limits would be eased in the new measure.
Since March, when Gov. Phil Murphy expanded the list of qualifying medical conditions and reduced the cost of patient registration, enrollment has doubled, from 18,500 patients to 37,500, according to the state health department.
But complaints have dogged the program that the six approved dispensaries are too few and too far away to provide an adequate supply of cannabis.
Under the bill approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, a newly-created Cannabis Regulatory Commission– which will control both the medicinal program and the anticipated recreational industry — will solicit applicants for six new growing and retail operations within 90 days.
The bill (S10) passed by a 7-1 vote. Sen. Ronald Rice did not vote. Lawmakers will begin to debate legislation. “This is long overdue,” one said.
Patients enrolled in New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program would be permitted every month to buy 2.5 ounces from January 2019 to July 2019 — up from the current 2 ounces — and after July, a maximum of 3 ounces a month. People who are in hospice care or diagnosed with a terminally disease would have no purchasing limits.
Raising the quantity of cannabis sold was a request from the parents of Jake Honig. Mike and Janet Honig of Howell bought dried cannabis and made their own oil for their son Jake, but the 2-ounce limit set by state law and regulation last only two weeks, Mike Honig told the committee.
Thanks to the oil, “he did well in school and played basketball,” when doctors predicted he would suffer from seizures, dizziness and other debilitating symptoms, Mike Honig said.”But we had to use it sparingly.”
The oil didn’t make his son high, Honig said. “He got his highest from morphine,” he said, adding, “Oxy did nothing for his pain.”
Committee Chairman and the bill sponsor, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, told the family the legislation would be named Jake’s Law in honor of their son.
According to (S10), the bill also would:
- Give advance practice nurses and nurse practitioners authority to recommend patients to the program.
Permit out-of-state medicinal marijuana patients from the 32 states where it is also legal to buy and consume cannabis in New Jersey.
- Shield registered patients from losing their jobs “unless an employer establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the lawful use of medical cannabis has impaired the employee’s ability to perform the employee’s job responsibilities;”Protect patients from losing visitation or custody of their children because they are registered in the program.
- Phase out the 6.625 percent sales tax over five years.
- Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean chastised Vitale for allowing medical cannabis to remain taxable. “It’s disgraceful — we tax no other medicine.”
- The bill also gives health care facilities the authority to be designated “institutional caregivers” and permitted to administer cannabis to its registered patients. But Lisa McCauley Parles, the parent of a 28-year-old son with autism and an array of chronic medical conditions, urged the committee to broaden the meaning of institutional caregiver.
People with developmental disabilities may benefit from cannabis, but if they are living in a group home or other institutional setting, a family member would be required to personally administer the medicine, she said.
“This limitation places an onerous burden on family members and improperly excludes the developmentally disabled from the benefits of having an employee administer medical marijuana,” Parles said.
Vitale said he would explore the idea and consider amending the bill.
The bill was immediately transferred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee meeting across the hall at the Statehouse in Trenton. A vote was scheduled later in the day.
An unusual pairing of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee were poised to vote on a bill that would legalize the sale and use of cannabis for people 21 and older.
Whatever is approved Monday still needs to pass the full 40-member Senate and the 80-member Assembly before it goes to Murphy.
Susan k Livio
Panel approves ‘Jake’s Law,’ which will make it easier to get medical marijuana in N.J.
11 26, 2018