Gov Murphy set to radically expand NJ’s Medical Marijuana Program

Just days after taking his oath of office, NJ Gov Phil Murphy gave his Health Department 60 days to come up with recommendations to to improve NJ’s long-languishing medical cannabis program. To bring it out of the toilet, as it were.

Signed in the waning days of the Jon Corzine era, NJ’s program was a longtime hostage of Gov Chris Christie’s retrograde War-on-Drugs mentality. That’s why NJ’s program is so awful. It’s Chris Christie’s fault.

Gov Murphy made drug reform a central tenet of his election campaign. So patients and advocates (self included) have breathlessly awaited the Governor’s first move. Today Murphy fired his open salvo. At a morning press conference outside his office he announced his plans to transform NJ’s program from WORST to FIRST.

“To those of you who struggle with bureaucratic nonsense, help is on the way,” Gov Murphy told  a packed house.

First of all, having a governor who’s not hostile to marijuana is a nice change. And Murphy’s plan to eliminate the special physician registry is huge. That registry is public and doctors are loath to have their names out there for many reasons. Especially since marijuana remains illegal on a federal level.

“The mandatory registry serves no purpose other than to advance a stigma on this,” Murphy added.

Fees will also go down. This is excellent! The registration fee to sign up for the medical marijuana program  program in New Jersey is $200. The new fee is $100. For veterans and those with disabilities it’s $20.

The governor  announced his intention to elevate the medical marijuana program within the health department. It’s a matter of leadership and prioritization he said. The program is getting its own  commissioner!

Governor Murphy also acknowledged the need for more dispensaries. Apparently five is not enough to serve 9 million people. To that end, he’s allowing current dispensaries to apply for permits to open up satellite locations. That takes time. And the process to grow the product does too. So while long-term prospects for medical marijuana patients look much better indeed, those long lines and high prices might get a little worse before it gets better.  It’s that whole supply and demand thing.

Chronically  ill patients like myself still  have to re-certify that we’re not magically cured. In my case, I must prove I’m still HIV+ to a special doctor (not my primary doc) 4 times a year at $100 a pop. Thanks to pending legislation, that burden’s on the way out, saving patients like myself the time and the costs, $400 annually in my case. There’s also legislation in the works that would an New Jersey’s 6 5/8% sales tax on all medical cannabis purchases. That did not come up at today’s press conference.

Several qualifying conditions for New Jersey’s program  went into effect today  including migraines, anxiety, and chronic pain. The Governor said giving patients a non-opiate option for pain relief is a powerful weapon as we battle New Jersey’s insatiable appetite for opiates.

Using cannabis therapy for those with opiate use disorder is not yet a qualifying condition that the governor personally said he wished it would be. And soon.  Medical cannabis therapy is an offensive and defensive weapon against the scourge of opiates, he pointed out.

As someone who used lots of cannabis while detoxing from the intravenous drugs that nearly killed me, I could not agree more.

Governor Murphy’s plans won’t permit patients to grow their own cannabis. That’s too bad because New Jersey’s program is expensive. There are literally only 5 dispensaries in the whole state. Patients drive long distances to wait in long lines to pay big money for slim pickings. And don’t get me started about the dispensaries’ inabilities to keep highly-coveted strains in stock. A home-grow option solves all those  issues. That won’t happen today.

But you can bet Murphy and his team know how important a home grow option is to patients in NJ. And still, when a reporter asked, Murphy seemed a little surprised by the question. He didn’t answer yes or no but the vibe  he gave off said “probably not.”

Ken Wolski runs the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ.  After battling with Chris Christie for eight years, he’s pleased at the new governor’s approach. Lack of homegrow not withstanding.

“I’m pleased with the expansion of the program the Governor came out with today,” Wolski told InsiderNJ. “The department of health is empowered to expand the program at anytime. I’m sure they’ll see the growing patient registry and act accordingly.”

Deputy health commissioner Jackie Cornell articulated the radically different approach taken by Phil Murphy versus his predecessor.

“ The changes we are making today are the result of meetings with patients,” Cornell added.

Meetings with medical marijuana patients, that’s something that was unimaginable during the Christie administration.


Jay Lassiter is a long time New Jersey political gadfly. He’s been HIV-positive since 1992. He’s been using medical cannabis the whole time.



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