New Jersey will begin to dramatically ramp up its medical marijuana program under a law Gov. Phil Murphy signed on Tuesday – the first successful effort on three pillars regarding cannabis the Murphy administration has attempted to tackle since taking office in January 2018.
Speaking in Freehold at the signing, the governor, who has previously said he was “not a big fan” of marijuana decriminalization voiced that he is not an absolute no to the prospect, days after the Senate president said he would be “willing to listen” to lawmakers pushing for the proposal.
“I’m not going to say ‘hell no’ to anything right now,” Murphy said. “I’m not a fan of it, historically, because again we leave the business in the hands of the wrong people.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, has also previously argued that decriminalization would “embolden the black market.”
Murphy has yet to act on a bill setting up an expungement process for certain cannabis-related offenses.
The enactment of Tuesday’s measure comes despite Murphy and legislative leadership conceding in March they could not get enough votes to move a marijuana legalization bill through the state Legislature. Currently, the state’s medical marijuana program serves over 44,000 patients serviced by six dispensaries, 930 physicians and 1,800 caregivers, with an additional six dispensaries in the works.
Assembly Bill 20 established the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, which “would be among the strongest medical marijuana laws in the United States,” Murphy said at the late-morning bill-signing.
“Over the last several years, a lot of us have come to understand how much [marijuana] can be used to help patients,” Murphy said. “Sick people have been helped, pain has been eased and precious moments with sick family members have been cherished.”
A20 keeps in place the program-eligible medical conditions outlined by the Murphy administration’s health department, which include chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, opioid use disorders and muscular-skeletal disorders. The bill also 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 time. Terminally-ill patients – with less than 12 months to live – can get an unlimited amount. Out-of-state patients could purchase medicinal cannabis in New Jersey for up to six months.
“[We] are lifting some of the burden on patients who are already spending too much money and more time than they ever wanted to spend at a doctors office,” Murphy added.
“The science is clear: medical cannabis is much more effective for patients than opioid or prescription drugs and does not create the horrible consequences of addiction,” New Jersey CannaBusiness Association President Scott Rudder said in a statement. “This legislation will benefit patients by making medicinal cannabis more accessible and more affordable.”