An Assembly committee moved ahead with a revised measure that would expand the state’s medical marijuana program, following nearly two weeks of closed door meetings between legislative leadership and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the new bill, Assembly Bill 20, in a 9-1 vote with one abstention late in the day on June 18. The text of the new version was not publicly available, but NJBIZ obtained a draft copy.
At the same time, the governor’s office is pausing its own expansion efforts while lawmakers work on their proposal.
According to the draft, the sales tax on medical marijuana would be phased out, falling from 6.625 percent to 4 percent on July 1, 2020, then to 2 percent on July 1, 2021. The tax would be eliminated completely on July 1, 2022.
Any tax revenue from medical marijuana sales would be “exclusively appropriated to programs for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders,” according to the bill. A prior expansion measure, Assembly Bill 10, would have retained the sales tax until January 2025. The Assembly was slated to consider A10 earlier this month, but that vote was held by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, who said he wanted more input from the governor.
A20 would also create a five-member Cannabis Regulatory Committee to oversee the state’s expansion medical marijuana program. The medical marijuana program would be first overseen by the Department of Health before being transitioned to the CRC, but the legislation does not specify a timeframe beyond “such time as the members of the commission are appointed and the commission first organizes.”
A20 also sets the number of cannabis providers at 28 for the first 18 months, rather than the 23 proposed in A10. The 28 would include the six existing medical marijuana alternative treatment centers and the six the Murphy administration has been adding.
Those businesses are now “vertically integrated,” meaning they handle the cultivation, manufacturing and sale of medical marijuana. Although existing businesses would be grandfathered into the program, new entities could only engage in one component. So the bill would bar vertical integration.
The Health Department has proposed adding more than 100 new medical marijuana businesses, split between dispensaries, manufacturers and cultivation, a move criticized by lawmakers such as Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, who said such a rapid level of expansion was “uncontrolled” and detrimental to the emerging market.
As with A10, the revised measure expands the list of medical conditions eligible for the program and expands the definition of caregiver, as well as the kinds of professionals who can prescribe medical marijuana.
Hospices and nursing homes could be “institutional caregivers” in the medical marijuana program, according to the draft.
Patients could get prescriptions for up to a year’s supply, an increase from 90 days, also a carryover from A10. And patients could purchase their medication from any dispensary, rather than only from the ATC at which they are registered as required under current law.
A patient would only need one doctor visit a year, rather than four, to verify that they are eligible for the program.
The bill raises the cap on how much medicinal cannabis a patient can buy in one month to 3 ounces for 18 months, and an amount to be determined by the CRC after that.
A20 allows for employees of ATCs to make medical marijuana deliveries, rather than requiring the service to be carried out by third parties as A10 would have stipulated.
The measure also allows for cannabis consumption areas, which have to be on the same property as the dispensary and can only be accessed by patients and their caregivers. The lounges would be restricted to outdoor venues in accordance with New Jersey’s indoor smoking laws.
Towns that host dispensaries could impose a maximum 2 percent tax on cannabis businesses.
Out-of-state patients could purchase medicinal cannabis in New Jersey for up to six months.
This story was updated on June 19 to add information about the involvement of the governor’s office.