In July 2019, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed into law an immediately effective law that aimed at significantly expanding access to medical marijuana for patients who qualify for cannabis therapy. The law aims to dramatically reform New Jersey standards for marijuana accessibility for patients with chronic illnesses or terminal diseases. The law, titled Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, was in the memory of a 7-year old Jake Honig, a young man who lost his battle with brain cancer. In his final months, Jake’s symptoms were eased by utilizing medical marijuana. Because the prior law limited medical marijuana to only 2 ounces, the relief was short lived, and for the rest of the month Jake had to take Oxycontin and morphine to reduce his suffering.
While the state legislature failed to pass Murphy stated that the long overdue legislation was set to create a new medical marajiuna program that is progressive, modernized and compassionate, as well as one that meets the needs of patients to help them utilize an affordable, accessible, life changing medical treatment they need. He has been pushing for the expansion of marijuana use for some time. In fact, he increased the state’s number of NJ marijuana dispensary locations from six to 12. The law makes some pertinent changes to the NJ marijuana laws. The aforementioned change from 2 to 3 ounces within 30 days has been expanded to an 18th month period, and can be extended at the time of expiration based on regulation. Terminally ill patients will not be charged a monthly fee for the medical marijuana treatment as of the signing of the bill either. Before the law patients had to be recertified to use medical marijuana products for up to 90 days, but the law extends that period to over a year.
Those individuals who were registered as medical marijana recipients in other states will be absorbed into NJ’s medical marijuana program for a period of up to 6 months during which they can obtain medical marijuana with the authorization of a NJ based healthcare provider, and possess it for the time period, as well as apply for necessary extensions. Prior to the law cbd edibles were acceptable only for patients who were minors, but the 2019 law extends that ability to adults as well. Additionally, prior rules required that it be only a physician who could prescribe medical marijuana use, though the law permitted advanced nurses and physician assistants to prescribe it as well.
The law also had a significant impact on NJ marijuana dispensary locations. They were required to provide a full price listing on their products on their website and were not permitted to deviate from the promoted price points, with the maximum number of time permitted to revise the prices being just once per month. The idea was to force competition that would in turn force prices for needing patients to stay low and affordable. Dispensaries were also permitted to operate on site consumption areas where patients were allowed to purchase and consume a number of cbd edibles, something formerly prohibited in the state. The bill also provided employee protections for the state’s residents, forbidding their employers from taking any type of action against them based on their medical marijuana consumption. The law did not however offer any protections for employees consuming medical marijuana during work hours, on the employer’s premises, or doing anything to endanger the employer from receiving federal funding. The amended version of the law however did provide an employee to explain why they tested positively during a company’s drug test. A written notice from the employers is deemed as necessary to be provided to an employee whose tests return positive results a written notice of a right to provide a legitimate medical explanation. Then, within a 3 day period the employee or applicant will be permitted to retest, or provide adequate evidence of the reason for the positive test result.
On the same front, the law protects students from discrimination through educational institutions or higher learning institutions based on their need and use of medical marijuana. Patients can also not be discriminated against when renting or leasing property, or being issued a professional licencing certification. The law also establishes a 5 member Cannabis Regulatory Commission with all members being apportioned by the governor, with each getting a recommendation from the house speaker and the president of the state senate. The commission would assume responsibility over the state’s medical marijuana dispensary activities and is part of the Department of the Treasury.
On top of all that the law also allowed for two primary caregivers to be allocated for each medical marijuana receiving patient. These designate caregivers would be permitted to purchase the medical marijuana for the patient. In the case of the product being necessitated for a child for example, the child’s parents or the child’s guardians would be able to purchase on the patient’s behalf. Moreover, it falls to specific health care facility employees to be designated as those able to acquire the medical marijuana on the patient’s behalf. For those who do not have the convenience of caregivers to purchase the medication for them, the law has established the ability of dispensaries to help improve patient access to the product by delivering it to their place of residence.
From the financial end, unlike other forms of medicine, medical marijuana incurs a sales tax. This sales tax is in the process of being phased out over a three year period. In July 2020 it came down to 4%, will come down to just 2% in July of 2021, and will be eliminated entirely for July of 2020. Jake Honig’s parents spoke positively about the effects of medical marijuana on their son. They saw his personality shine through the pain, and though he was not able to prolong his life, the quality of his last few months improved with the product’s help. When Jake was on morphine or oxycodone, he experienced more side effects than did help. These included vomiting, itchiness, and sleeplessness. Needless to say his parents were heartbroken by the loss, but very appreciative for the few months of improved state of being for their young son.