Beginning next week, the state Health Department will have new legal authority to expand the supply and demand for medical cannabis in New Jersey — a major priority for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration as the effort to legalize recreational marijuana is looking unlikely this year.
For the first time, the department will be able to create a permit-granting system that divides up the industry between cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers. The six operating nonprofits which serve the 46,300 registered patients control all aspects of the process, as will the next six which were awarded contracts in December.
Issuing permits for the various segments of the medicinal cannabis business is expected to open the door to smaller entrepreneurs, promote the industry’s growth and generate more medicine as roughly 2,000 patients join the program every month.
Other new rules that take effect on May 20 will permit the health commissioner to add medical conditions that qualify patients for the program. This would replace the process, adopted under the 2010 law, which requires the Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel to hold multiple public hearings over six months before it makes a recommendation to the health commissioner. The more conditions the state adds, the greater the demand will be for the program.
The new rules also eliminate the requirement that minor patients must be recommended by a psychiatrist before they are enrolled in the program — a burden in the early years as doctors resisted being associated with what is still an illegal act under federal law.
The rule-making process in state government requires changes to be advertised in the New Jersey Register, a biweekly publication, and solicit oral and written comment from the public. The amended rules are published again before they take effect.
State legislators are expected to approve a new medicinal marijuana law that would usher in even broader changes, but its fate is tied to the legalization bill, which doesn’t have enough support to pass yet.
Information on the program can be found at the NJ.gov website.