Governor Phil Murphy announced major reforms to New Jersey’s medicinal marijuana program, including: the addition of medical conditions, lowered patient and caregiver fees, allowing dispensaries to add satellite locations, and proposed legislative changes that would increase the monthly product limit for patients, and allow an unlimited supply for those receiving hospice care.
“We are changing the restrictive culture of our medical marijuana program to make it more patient-friendly,” Governor Murphy said. “We are adding five new categories of medical conditions, reducing patient and caregiver fees, and recommending changes in law so patients will be able to obtain the amount of product that they need. Some of these changes will take time, but we are committed to getting it done for all New Jersey residents who can be helped by access to medical marijuana.”
More than 20 recommendations are outlined in a report that New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal submitted to Governor Murphy in response to Executive Order 6, which directed a comprehensive review of the program within 60 days.
“As a physician, I have seen the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for patients with cancer and other difficult conditions,” said Elnahal. “These recommendations are informed by discussions with patients and their families, advocates, dispensary owners, clinicians, and other health professionals on the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel. We are reducing the barriers for all of these stakeholders in order to allow many more patients to benefit from this effective treatment option.”
In the report, the Department submitted three categories of recommendations: those that are effective today, regulatory changes that will go through the rulemaking process, and proposals that require legislation. In addition, there are recommendations for important future initiatives to allow home delivery, develop a provider education curriculum, and expedite the permitting process.
Five new categories of medical conditions (anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic visceral pain) will be eligible for marijuana prescription. Currently, 18,574 patients, 536 physicians, and 869 caregivers participate in the program – a far smaller number than comparably populated states. The Commissioner will also be able to add additional conditions at his discretion.
Other immediate changes include lowering the biennial patient registration fee from $200 to $100 and adding veterans and seniors – 65 and older – to the list of those who qualify for the $20 discounted registration fee. Those on government assistance, including federal disability, already receive the reduced fee.
Some other immediate changes include lifting the one-caregiver limit per patient and allowing Alternative Treatment Centers to apply to open satellite locations, a change that will allow for short-term increase of supply. Further, any physician who meets the requirements of the medical marijuana program will be able to prescribe marijuana without appearing on a public registry. The Department’s website will continue to be available for physicians who would like to publicize their availability and willingness to offer medical marijuana as a treatment option for patients, but the public physician registry will no longer be a requirement.
Recommendations to change the law include increasing the monthly product limit to four ounces, allowing hospice patients to have an unlimited supply, allowing adult patients to have access to edibles (helping those with dexterity issues), and eliminating the requirement that the original six ATCs be non-profits. There are currently five ATCs in New Jersey, and a sixth is scheduled to open this spring. The Department of Health will also work with the Department of Law and Public Safety to expedite the current process for obtaining a permit for the next round of ATC applications.
The Department also proposes amending its rules to allow future ATCs to specialize in specific areas of the business such as cultivating, dispensing, or manufacturing, without having to do all three. The administration believes that this will add flexibility and specialization to the industry, ultimately improving access for patients.
To implement the reforms, Commissioner Elnahal has elevated the program to a Division level and appointed a new Assistant Commissioner, Jeffrey A. Brown. He has worked in health policy, quality improvement, and government affairs for several New Jersey non-profits, including the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, the New Jersey Hospital Alliance, and New Jersey Citizen Action. Brown will report to Principal Deputy Commissioner Jackie Cornell, who currently oversees the program.
“We are responsibly expanding the program,” Cornell said. “This is the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”
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