An easy guide to getting a NJ medical cannabis ID highlights recent changes that make it a whole lot easier than it used to be.
New Jersey is home to the most expensive medical cannabis in America, an unfortunate and enduring distinction. And given the pot industry’s lavish PR and lobbying budgets, medical cannabis-related sticker shock won’t end soon. But the process to qualify for NJ’s medical cannabis program got a whole lot easier (and slightly cheaper) which I just learned by renewing my state-issued medical cannabis ID.
The current list of qualifying conditions is longer than ever:
- Chronic pain
- Epilepsy/Seizure disorder
- IBD (incl. Crohn’s disease)
- Intractable skeletal muscular spasticity
- Muscular dystrophy
- Opioid Use Disorder
- Terminal illness w/ 12 month (or less) prognosis
- Tourette Syndrome
Suffer from an ailment listed above? First step: Get a letter of diagnosis from your primary care provider!
You’ll notice that list now includes chronic pain and anxiety. As someone who used cannabis to detox from the drug (meth) that nearly killed me, it is especially gratifying to see opioid use disorder finally included, the result of tenacious activism.
I can still hear the doubters and War of Drug dead-enders questioning the wisdom of cannabis to help someone kick heroin. But in real life, cannabis can be a godsend for someone dealing with the physical and mental anguish of opioid withdrawal. Detox symptoms such as nausea, chills, anxiety, and sleeplessness are all better-managed with weed.
Quitting meth back in 2003 was the hardest thing I’ll ever do. Heroin is a whole lot harder to quit than meth and I wish more people knew that and understood how debilitating heroin addiction truly is. New Jersey cannabis regulators and (some) lawmakers blessedly, finally do know that.
Ok so you’ve got your letter of diagnosis, what next?
STEP 2: find a New Jersey medical professional who’s authorized to recommend medical cannabis. Not every provider can do it which is ridiculous if you think about it. Currently, New Jersey doesn’t boast a huge list of providers but things are infinitely better than when there was only one authorized doc in Camden County.
There are currently 71 medical cannabis gatekeepers in Camden County.
My pot doctor charges $250/year to keep me in compliance with NJ regs. The extra cost alone highlights the need to eliminate this particular requirement of an extra pot gatekeeper to sign off on each applicant. A letter of diagnosis from my actual doctor should be enough and a more perfect version of medical marijuana in New Jersey would quickly eliminate this hurdle. It’s extra time, money, and hassle to satisfy multiple gatekeepers.
And it’s a burden sick people shouldn’t have to bear.
STEP 3: Set up an account with the state.
I was cranky about this part, but it turns out, setting up an online account was a breeze. The fee for a medical cannabis ID card is $50 (down from $200) and $20 for anyone on assistance. The program is free for minors and their caregivers. Cards are valid for 24 months.
Once logged in you’ll need to upload a headshot and proof of residency. Someone lacking tech savvy (or reliable Internet access) might be put off by the state’s mostly online approach but I found it much easier than years past. My card arrived 3 weeks later.
This is my 6th medical cannabis ID card and the process to rectify for another two-year hitch in NJ’s medical cannabis program was convenient and cheaper than ever. And that’s important because potential medical consumers have recreational access now, a disincentive to go through the trouble to register. So why bother with the ID?
A few reasons actually:
Medical cannabis users pay no sales tax, another hard-fought victory by advocates who worked to twilight the Chris Christie-era tax on medical cannabis purchases. Secondly, medical users bypass the (exceedingly) long lines at NJ’s recreational dispensaries and have their own designated cashier lanes once inside. Thirdly, the medical cannabis ID is useful on the road in places that welcome out-of-state medical cannabis consumers. It won’t work everywhere, take Florida for example. But I can access cheap, tax-free medical cannabis in most of the rest of America, including Colorado, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington DC.
But the most important reason to take the plunge and get that medical cannabis card is because we need you! There will always be power and safety in numbers. Over 120,000 registered medical cannabis patents live in NJ, an impressive sounding number that’s increasingly dwarfed by the much larger recreational market. Medical cannabis users are powerful and political-wired constituency whose activism is often propelled when illness strikes close to home. And that power is diminished when those who qualify for medical cannabis in NJ don’t bother because of NJ’s inhospitable reputation towards medical cannabis users.
Little by little, that reputation is changing, no small feat in a state where growing your own is still very much illegal.
The juice won’t be worth the squeeze for everyone. But there’s never been a better to time to enroll in NJ’s medical cannabis program.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill, NJ