(Still) Fixing NJ’s Medical Cannabis Program

The Gold Dome.

Most of what’s wrong with NJ’s costly and oft-beleaguered medical cannabis program is on former Governor Chris Christie, a “just say no” Republican whose administration stood up the most expensive and stupidly-regulated cannabis regime in American history.

Christie’s version included a 6.625% sales tax on medical cannabis purchases.

That especially mean-spirited regulation was snuffed out on June 30, the last day NJ medical cannabis consumers were forced to pay sales tax on their medicine.

“Removing state sales tax on medicinal cannabis is consistent with Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature’s intent to prioritize patients and improve affordability,” said Jeff Brown, executive director of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. “As the sales tax has been phased out from 4% to 2% and now to 0% patients have been able to spend less on their medicine, further ensuring patients are prioritized over recreational consumers.”

It’s about freaking time.

NJ is home to the most expensive medical cannabis in the nation and so anything that makes it cheaper, even 2% cheaper, is a welcome step forward. It’s the latest in a series of incremental improvements made by the Murphy administration to NJ’s medical cannabis program, a list that includes more qualifying conditions and a barrier-free certification process.

According to Mr. Brown, that process is about to get a bit easier, especially for the sickest among us.

“The Cannabis Regulatory Commission anticipates further actions, including the launch of a new registry which will streamline enrollment for patients and allow new patients to purchase medicinal cannabis even before they’ve received their patient ID card,” Mr. Brown told InsiderNJ.

Currently the turnaround time between approval and getting the ID in the mail is about a week. That might not seem like much, but for someone sick and newly diagnosed, immediate access to medical cannabis can be a godsend.

And now the bad news

Medical cannabis in NJ is still the most expensive in the nation, between $450-$500 for an ounce of the good stuff. And lacking provisions for home cultivation, you can go to jail for 5 years for growing your own weed in New Jersey.

The most impactful change Trenton could make is to permit patients to grow their own medical cannabis, eliminating barriers like cost, fees, long lines, distance to dispensary, etc. But the tremendous lobbying clout of NJ’s cannabis industry means that won’t happen any time soon, leaving NJ out-of-step with other medical cannabis states.

But there’s a workaround that could get us partway there, if not for recreational users, at least for NJ’s 127,721 medical cannabis patients.

NJ’s Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin could sorta kinda decriminalize home cultivation with a memo directing New Jersey’s 21 county prosecutors to lay off patients who run afoul of NJ’s remorseless anti-home grow laws.

That’s not a loaf or even half a loaf. It’s more like crumbs, actually.

But it’s a heckuva lot better than incarcerating sick people for growing weed and that’s where we’re at right now.

No Insurance Coverage

Health insurance is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the state. There are conditions to doing business here.

If insurance companies want to operate in NJ, they should be willing to cover cannabis therapy for sick people. Cannabis is expensive. Thanks to federal regulations and the Biden Administration’s wishy washiness on cannabis, these transactions are still cash-only, no debit cards, no AMEX.

And definitely no insurance coverage.

Which means every year, people all over NJ are paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for their meds.

Is there a doctor in the house?

The Christie-era rule forcing patients to rectify their qualifying condition every 90 days has been scrapped by the Murphy administration in favor of a yearly re-cert. Thank heaven! And now, you don’t need a special doctor to sign off, any ol’ doc can do, including your own PCP or advanced practice nurse.

Unfortunately most docs (including mine) have no interest in being the primary gatekeeper for a drug that’s still illegal on a federal level. So even though the regulations loosened, it didn’t really change things very much on the ground.

And the doctors interested in gatekeeping NJ’s medical cannabis program are still, shall we say, a certain kind of breed.

My first pot doc is currently fighting for his license after an employees got busted selling opioid prescriptions in his name. My second pot doc actually lost his license for ostensibly running the cannabis version of a pill mill.

On my last visit with doctor #2, his inability to name my qualifying condition confirmed my worst suspicion: NJ’s regulatory climate was just right for shady docs to get rich off the backs of sick people.

So what happens when the regulatory climate changes for the better but conditions on the ground languish? It’s a question I don’t think the folks running NJ’s medical cannabis program are taking seriously enough right now.

How do we attract better doctors? A good start would be  assurances from the Attorney General that no one’s medical license is jeopardized for recommending medical cannabis to their patients. Secondly, someone from the Department of Health, preferably a doc or nurse practitioner, should make it their actual job to travel around NJ to educate physicians and hospitals about NJ’s medical cannabis program.

NJ’s former health commissioner Dr. Sharif Elnahal used to do just that but he’s not around any more.

“There are these events called grand rounds,” Dr. Elnahal told InsiderNJ back in 2018. “They are when experts come in and, basically teach their peers, residents, medical students, people on the totem pole to become physicians, but also nurse practitioners, PAs, other medical professionals that see patients.”

I’d like to know who’s doing grand rounds on cannabis in NJ and if the answer is “nobody” then that’s an extremely problematic explanation for NJ’s medical cannabis doctor logjam.

Jay Lassiter is an award winning writer and podcaster who majored in weed at Towson University. 


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One response to “(Still) Fixing NJ’s Medical Cannabis Program”

  1. Totally unacceptable New Jersey I had surgery Tuesday the 27th of September and went to purchase medical cannabis to relieve my pain and was unable to purchase because of your new online Registry program for the newly called medical cannabis program you should have called it cannabis instead of marijuana a long time ago I’ve been a medical marijuana program for 7 years and spent so much money the high ridiculous cost and you built your cannabis industry off of us medical patients and I’m unable to purchase today because of your new Online Registry is totally unacceptable we don’t do that for opioids I can run to any pharmacy and the ridiculously high prices that myself and other people on disability with chronic illnesses have been paying is totally unacceptable we need to grow our own medical cannabis in the state of New Jersey you very greedy and you will be accountable and how dare you stop me from getting medical cannabis today after surgery somebody’s head needs to roll in Trenton

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