Steve Sweeney, NJ’s Medical Marijuana Villain

The NJ Department of Health issued its biennial report on the state of NJ’s medical cannabis program. But I don’t need a report to know NJ’s program stinks and it’s all Steve Sweeney’s fault. 

(Trenton) —

It’s tempting and easy to blame former Governor Chris Christie for everything that’s wrong with New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Christie’s from the old school and was generous with contempt towards anyone who begged to differ.

Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine signed medical marijuana legislation into law with the clock winding down on his term. So it was left to Christie to implement and regulate a medical cannabis program he never wanted.

The result: the most expensive, impractical, over-regulated, over-taxed medical cannabis program in the nation. You might even call it mean-spirited and if you did, I won’t argue. I mean, we are talking about sick people here.

It’s Steve Sweeney’s fault that New Jersey’s medical cannabis program continues to fail its users. There’s a bill (A10/S10) to fix most of what ails NJ’s program. (learn about the ghastly details of NJ’s broken program here.)

This legislation has bipartisan support and would pass both houses with votes to spare.

But Sweeney won’t post the bill.

Biennial report.

Every two years, New Jersey’s Department of Health issues a report about the state of NJ’s medical cannabis program. The latest one  came out just last week. Jeff Brown is NJ’s assistant health commissioner. He told InsiderNJ that NJ’s densely-packed marketplace can accommodate a whole lot more growth.

“Based on enrollment projections, New Jersey needs a total of 25-50 cultivations sites and 50-90 dispensaries to meet the growing demand for medical cannabis,” Mr Brown said.

We’ve got six now. It’s almost like a cartel.

“New Jersey patients deserve affordable products at easily accessible dispensaries,” Mr Brown told InsiderNJ. “That means more dispensary locations, more businesses permitted to grow and process medical cannabis, and more competition. Competition is the key to access, value, and affordability in New Jersey’s market.”

He’s right. And activists know he’s right. Aubrey Navarro-Conway is cannabis lobbyist from Sayreville.

“The state report coming out and repeating what we have been yelling for a full year was refreshing,” Ms Navarro Conway told InsiderNJ. “But did you see the map showing who has access to an ATC under 30 minutes of travel?!”

We did. (see pic) It’s on page 23 of the report and it highlights how many people have to drive a really long way to pay too much for their medicine.

“That’s disgusting and we should be ashamed of how few NJ patients have reasonable access,” Ms Navarro Conway added.

I agree. And so does NJ’s deputy health commissioner.

“More than half the state does not have a dispensary within 30 minutes,” Mr Brown told InsiderNJ. “The need to expand the medical cannabis market in New Jersey is clear. Prices at dispensaries are high, there are far too few locations, not enough variety of products, and the growing patient population has strained supply at ATCs.”

 

WHAT’S THE HOLDUP??

“The Governor, the Speaker and I should stick to our agreement to work for legislative approval of the three bills without sacrificing the criminal justice reforms that are so important,” Sweeney said.

But why would helping sick people sacrifice criminal justice reforms? (Hint: it doesn’t)

The only person in Trenton who thinks it’s a good idea to package medical- and recreational cannabis together is Steve Sweeney. Instead of holding sick- and dying patients hostage while the recreational debate plays out, Sweeney should lobby the members of his own caucus who are on the fence. The Assembly has the votes to legalize pot.

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney doesn’t.

And last I checked, very few YES votes are coming from Senators south of 195, Sweeney’s presumed sphere of influence. The only firm YES (besides Sweeney) is Sen. Troy Singleton who has spoken eloquently and often about the damage caused by the war of drugs.

That leaves Senators Jim Beach, Nilsa Cruz Perez, Fred Madden, Bob Andrzejczak, and Dawn Addiego – all Sweeney loyalists – in the NO camp. Can’t he twist some arms like that time he wanted a gas pipeline in the Pine Barrens?

NJ Senator Declan O’Scanlon co-sponsored S10, legislation to improve NJ’s medical cannabis program.

“We don’t need to tie things together when our bill treats medical like it’s a medicine,” Sen. O’Scanlon told InsiderNJ. “It sends the wrong message. We worked very hard when we did the first medical bill to disabuse everyone of that (recreational/medical) affiliation, to see medical marijuana as the medicinal product that it is. Now by tying these two things together, we sort of backtrack on that message and I’m not happy about it.”

Governor Murphy isn’t happy about it either, namely because he’s getting an earful from patients who are basically fed up with waiting. Patients and their families are even staging protests in front of Sweeney’s office to press their case.

“Sweeney has proven he cannot hear the pleas and cries from the medical marijuana patient community,” Ms Navarro-Conway told InsiderNJ. “Sweeney has forgotten there are terminal patients, including children, who are  waiting every single day for sufficient affordable, quality access to medical cannabis.”

So what happens if lawmakers in Trenton keep fumbling the recreational debate? Will medical cannabis remain a casualty of their ineptitude?

Probably yes.

Isn’t that disappointing?

Jay Lassiter has been using medical cannabis for several decades, most of that time as a criminal. 

 

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  • OHAMKRW

    I really don’t understand the attacks on Sen. Sweeney, a strong advocate for marijuana reform. Now Republicans are blaming Democrats for delaying expansion of the medical marijuana program. (https://www.nj.com/…/the-democrats-political-machine-is…) But it was difficult to find Republicans who would vote for medical marijuana when the bill was in the legislature from 2005 to 2010. Then Republican Gov. Christie came in office and, for eight years, put delays and roadblocks in the implementation of NJ’s medical marijuana law. Cannabis legalization is the best way to get this medicine to the most people. Legalization changes cannabis from a drug that requires multiple doctor visits, and specific qualifying conditions, to one that can be purchased by any adult over the counter, like aspirin. Sweeney is trying to legalize cannabis. Republican legislative leaders like Sen. Doherty consider cannabis “evil.”

    • Kirielson

      It’s very simple: If Sweeny wanted to get this done, he could have. He opted not to for whatever reason.

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