The state Senate approved a measure in a 33-4 vote that would dramatically expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, after the Assembly approved the measure by a wide margin last week.
The legislation that was passed Thursday in the Senate was amended to include a requirement that dispensaries, known as alternative treatment centers, hire union workers and demonstrate that they have a labor agreement in place.
The bill would give priority to applicants who already have an agreement with an labor organization, according to the amendments.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said the Assembly would vote on June 10 to approve the bill with the new amendments, after which it would head to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. The state Senate is also expected to vote on the expungement bill that same day, which Sweeney said was pulled from Thursday’s session because of “drafting errors.”
That measure would set up New Jersey to be a “national model for treating patients,” said one of the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Joe Vitale, D-19th District, who also chairs the Senate health committee.
Assembly Bill 10 would legalize edible forms of medical marijuana, allow medicinal patients to purchase up to three ounces of cannabis a month, eliminate the sales tax in 2025, and allow towns where ATCs are based to levy a 2 percent transfer tax.
Vitale and Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District – the other major backer of both the medical and recreational cannabis bills – largely defended the intention to keep the tax rate intact. Whereas, prior versions of the legislation would have gradually phased out the tax rate over several years.
Scutari said the state would need to handle several regulations for medical marijuana that would typically be handled by the Food and Drug Administration for any medication, but would not be because cannabis is still illegal under federal law. Those state-level regulations, Scutari said, carry a price tag.
Vitale said towns would simply have the option to levy up to a 2 percent tax, which would be permissive and not mandatory, and allow municipalities money to handle local regulations and enforcement.
Vitale pinned the blame for the large costs of medicinal cannabis on the fact that health insurance companies cannot, under federal law, cover medical marijuana.
A closer look at A10
The legislation would cap the number of cultivators at 23 for the first 18 months. A set percentage of licenses would also be required to go to women, veterans and people of color.
A10 would set up separate licenses for wholesaling, cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing of medicinal cannabis, rather than the current system where businesses must be vertically integrated: that is, capable of carrying out all those functions.
A doctor would be able to prescribe up to a 12-month supply of cannabis, up from the current 90-day limit. Patients could also purchase medicinal cannabis from any ATC in the state, whereas current law only allows patients to buy from the specific dispensary with which they are registered. Patients could also place orders online for home delivery of medicinal cannabis.
The state’s current medical marijuana program accommodates over 46,000 patients through six dispensaries, 950 doctors and 1,850 patient caregivers.
Vitale said that the increased supply would drive down costs of the product.
“One visit a year, not several, saves them a lot of money, and that’s a great addition to the bill,” Vitale said. “We double or triple or quadruple that number, there will be a fight for patients and prices will go down as well.”
Sweeney was still critical of the measure as a “backdoor” to legalization, but he nonetheless voted for the bill.
“If I have anxiety I get a prescription, if I have a twitch I get a prescription, if I don’t feel good today, I can get a prescription,” Sweeney told reporters before the state Senate meeting. “So yeah, that’s pretty much legalizing it in my mind.”
Murphy has not publicly expressed his stance on A10, although he did support the trio of bills – for medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and expungement – when lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted in March to push the bills through the state Legislature.
But Sweeney, speaking to reporters following the Senate session, expressed hope that Murphy would sign the bill.
“Everything we put in the bill was agreed upon, we moved components of the adult-use into the medical use, like the commission, but all the things that were moved into the medical bill are things the administration agreed to,” Sweeney said.