With a bill to legalize recreational marijuana effectively on the backburner for the foreseeable future, Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants to expand the state’s medicinal program to serve as many as 200,000 additional patients, under a “contingency plan” which he plans to unveil in a matter of days.
“I believe medical marijuana, which we have artificially held back, is hugely helpful” for a variety of medical ailments, Murphy said at an open-forum town hall in Union City Monday night. “So we held back [and] the prior administration really held back medical marijuana.”
The move comes after the state Legislature’s top Democrats said they were unable to garner enough votes in the state Senate to pass a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate adult-use marijuana. The Assembly had the 41 votes it needed, but the state Senate could not reach the 21-vote threshold.
“We’ll likely aggressively further open up the medical regime in the next day or two,” Murphy said last night, adding that the number of people enrolled in the program “probably should be at 150,000 or 200,000.”
According to a recent headcount by the Department of Health, which oversees the program, more than 42,000 patients participate the medicinal cannabis program, as well as hundreds of doctors and caregivers.
There are six alternative treatment centers where patients can buy medicinal cannabis, and there are plans to open six more ATCs. Murphy said he wants “many multiples” of that number.
But the state health department is limited by the Christie-era legislation in what it can do with the medical marijuana program without approval of the Legislature, Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal told NJBIZ last week.
Those expansions, laid out in Senate Bill 10 which was also pulled from consideration for a vote on Monday, would lift the cap on how much medicinal marijuana a patient could obtain each month, create employee protections for patients, and set aside a certain percentage of medicinal marijuana licenses for women-, veteran- and minority-owned businesses.
Lawmakers cancelled votes on S10, along with a bill setting up an expungement process for low-level marijuana convictions, much to the criticism of lawmakers who said the measures should be voted on separately.
“I agree with [Senate President Stephen Sweeney] that we should have learned a lesson about the process of legalizing recreational marijuana, which is much different than medical marijuana,” Sen. Ron Rice, D-28th District, a vocal opponent of the legal cannabis bill and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Monday in a statement.
Sen. Kip Bateman, R-16th District, added that “we were presented an all or nothing proposition on some poorly structured bills, which doomed the potential for achieving significant marijuana reform from the start.”
Murphy, along with Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, argued the trio of bills cannot be approved separately and must be approved at the same Assembly and Senate voting sessions.