Listen to audio version of this article
(I spent 20 minutes trying to do a cannabis version of “Trenton Makes The World Makes” and came up with nothing. You’ve been failed.)
It’s a very busy Monday in Trenton with several cannabis bills up for debate. Legislation to improve NJ’s badly-broken medical marijuana program (A10) gets a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Medical marijuana is an easy lift at this point, look for this bill to advance easily and headed to a full vote in the Assembly.
That same committee also debates the New Jersey Regulatory And Expungement Aid Modernization Act (A4497.) That’s New Jersey’s version of marijuana legalization. For better or worse.
On the Senate side, the Judiciary committee is scheduled to take up their version of the legalization bill (S2703.) I’m hearing chatter this might get pushed off til’ Thursday on account of changes to the bill. A short delay is not uncommon and in this instance it’s not uncomplicated. The Assembly bill must reflect whatever changes happen to the Senate version between now and Thursday. So basically today’s Assembly committee might have to time-travel to properly make an informed decision on the bill.
With the recreational debate still taking shape, I’ll focus today on (A10), legislating to improve NJ’s medical cannabis program.
Everyone knows New Jersey’s medical marijuana program needs work. Cannabis therapy is too expensive in a state with only six dispensaries. Anyone who maxes out their monthly 2 ounce allotment shells out roughly $900. A10 would increase the monthly allotment to 3 oz, a positive step.
There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS. But I must book extra doctor visits every two months to re-certify that I haven’t been miraculously cured of HIV. Six times a year, a hundred dollars a pop for the past six years equals $3,600 out-of-pocket to re-certify I’m actually HIV+.
That would pay off my car note. But in NJ, it’s the price of admission.
Today’s bill finally addresses re-certification, the most pernicious, onerous regulation on the books. Should this pass, patients would re-certify annually instead of 6 times a years. This bill’s passage saves me time and $500 a year in co-pays.
Five hundred dollars is a car payment.
You know what $500 won’t get you? An ounce of cannabis at the Egg Harbor NJ dispensary where, last I checked, ounces were selling for $520, an astonishing price point, among the highest in America. That’s one complaint. And while mileage may very, there are 43,000 medical marijuana patients in NJ, all jumping the same hurdles to stay compliant.
Today’s bill A10 removes many of the worst hurdles. Now re-certification can happen concurrently with routine lab work or during my regular visits with my PCP or nurse practitioner.
But those high dispensary prices still force many medical cannabis users to NJ’s black market. Likewise, there are many places outside of the Garden State that accept NJ medical cannabis IDs, including DC and Michigan. Shipping cannabis from Michigan or driving in back from DC is very illegal. Buying it from the nice hippie lady down the street is also illegal.
Lack of liberty is a distinct feature of NJ’s medical marijuana program so far, with so many patients like myself acquiring outside of regulation. I’ve made only 3 or 4 legal purchases in NJ since last February. After 27 years with HIV I’m still a criminal here in NJ, the state whose marijuana laws I’m devoted to reforming.
And that burns.
There’s little appetite in Trenton to allow patients to grow their own cannabis even though doing so would mostly fix what ails NJ’s program. This leaves us at odds with other medical cannabis states where patients have the liberty to grow their own.
The Assembly appropriations committee will hear a boatload about home-cultivation, and rightfully so.
They won’t listen.
But maybe they’ll soften their resistance to home cultivation. For the next round of improvements, at least.