Candidate Phil Murphy mentioned marijuana frequently on the campaign trail. But Governor Murphy’s medical cannabis program continues to languish badly. And despite a notable, welcome change of tone at the top, New Jersey’s program remains America’s worst. Here’s why:
Too Taxing. Literally. That means sick people in NJ shell out an additional 6.625% on top of their (already) over-priced medicine. A new tax was not part of NJ’s original medical cannabis law. That was Chris Christie’s idea. (Remember him? He’s the hypocrite who spent eight years whining that NJ government was too big.)
Murphy can lower prices immediately by eliminating the sales tax provision. But he won’t. In fact, he’s already banking on those revenues to balance his budget. So in the meantime, sales taxes on medical marijuana epitomize big government run amok.
Which makes it hard to counter charge that Murphy’s just another tax-and-spend liberal soaking the little people to fund his budget priorities.
Home Delivery. We’re talking about sick people here. Many are in hospice. A more compassionate approach permits home delivery for patients who want it or need it. But this must come with no extra fees or bureaucratic hurdles. Let’s make it as easy as ticking a box on a website or an app. If Walgreens can do it, so too can every cannabis dispensary in NJ. Thanks to their monopoly, these dispensaries are rolling in money. They can all afford to invest in a practical, efficient delivery program.
More dispensaries. There are only 5 dispensaries in New Jersey, population 9,000,000. NJ’s regulations only allow six for the entire state. Blame for that mostly falls on Chris Christie whose antipathy towards cannabis has been exhaustively chronicled.
But there’s plenty of blame to spread.
Foundation Harmony in Secaucus is the only dispensary in NJ still not open 9 years after NJ’s law passed. I’ve seen a copy of Foundation Harmony’s licensing application and – hand on heart – it looked designed to fail. (I have a copy. At 85 pages, it’s too big to share here. If you’d like a peek, let me know.)
New Jersey’s Christie-era medical marijuana regulations predicate further industry growth on all 6 dispensaries doing business. No more dispensaries until then. Five dispensaries are serving clients in NJ. But Harmony Foundation, once rep’d by Al Gaburo, a bluechip lobbyist at Princeton Public Affairs, that one remain remains shuttered.
Foundation Harmony’s application raised red flags from day one. Written in “awkward and stilted” English, their application is embarrassingly lacking. Why would a dispensary with the best lobbying firm in Trenton submit such amateurish work? Was that on purpose? Who benefits most if NJ’s medical cannabis program languishes? Al Gaburo’s other (bigger) clients: big-phama & big-booze. The alcohol and pharmaceutical industries both regard cannabis as a threat to their marketshare. And bottlenecking the entire medical cannabis program in NJ certainly comports with big pharna’s marketshare-related ambitions.
Look, I hung out with the guys from Princeton Public Affairs on this year’s ChamberTrain to DC and frankly, it was a gas. I take no pleasure belaboring their roll kneecapping this program at the very first hurdle. But I’m not gonna shut up about this until NJ’s medical cannabis program is fixed.
There are only 5 dispensaries in New Jersey, population 9,000,000. Relying on the current cartel of dispensaries to fix this mess rewards their mediocrity. They don’t deserve the monopoly they currently enjoy.
Outside competition will address many of these concerns.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) co-sponsored A3437, a bill to end the most pernicious component of NJ’s medical cannabis program: a mandate that every medical cardholder in NJ must rectify their health status every 90 days. Your primary doc won’t do. The specialist treating you won’t suffice. Nope. NJ rules require each patient visit an additional doctor, often out-of-network, every 3 months just to remain complaint.
In other states, a letter of diagnosis from your own doctor generally does the trick.
“No one with MS or HIV should ever have to recertify their condition,” Gusciora said. “That’s an insult to sick people.”
I qualify because I’ve been HIV+ for 26 years. My cannabis doc is a nice guy. But these visits are a sham. I show up, they ask how I’m doing. I say just fine and then there’re like “ok you’re all set, that’s $100 cash please.”
It doesn’t feel like a doctor visit in any way. We never discuss my qualifying condition. No lab work of any kind. It’s just another burdensome, insulting, expensive hurdle to overcome for anyone looking 1) to qualify and 2) stay in compliance.
No other state in America repeatedly forces sick and dying patients to prove that they are in fact sick and dying. But in New Jersey, it’s a costly indignity patients endure 4 time a year. By signing A3437, Governor Murphy could save each of us between 400-600 dollars per year by eliminating this invasive, duplicative re-certification process.
Here we are again.
I’m a liberal arts dropout loathe to school a Wall Street titan like Murphy on the most basic of microeconomic principles. But Murphy’s unfortunate decision to aggressively add patients to NJ’s registry only created more demand-side bottle necks: longer lines, fewer stain choices, higher prices. If supply and demand are imbalanced, you get more people fighting for ever scarcer resources.
This shouldn’t be that complicated. Especially with the bar so low to begin with.
Jay Lassiter is drug reform advocate from Cherry Hill. When he’s not fixing NJ’s cannabis laws, he’s probably traveling around NJ teaching people how to reverse a heroin overdose with Narcan. If you know an organization/school/club/family who could use a Narcan tutorial, email Lassiter.Jay@gmail.com.