New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a measure that expands the state’s medical cannabis program. The legislation introduces a number of changes that would make New Jersey’s existing medical cannabis program more accessible to patients who could benefit from the drug.
Jake Honig’s story
The legislation, called the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is named after a seven-year-old boy who died in 2018 after battling a rare and aggressive type of brain cancer. He went into remission for four years after undergoing dozens of chemotherapy sessions, surgery, and proton radiation therapy. However, follow-up scans later revealed that his brain tumor had returned and the cancer has spread to other parts of his body.
The boy was prescribed six different medications to help him manage the symptoms of his illness, which included vomiting and nausea, acid reflux, and agitation. Jake’s parents, Mike and Janet Honig, said that doctors had prescribed their son morphine and other opioids, but these had terrible side effects. Aside from making Jake high, the prescription medications also took away his appetite.
Medical cannabis has proven to be the most effective at keeping Jake comfortable and at improving his mood and his appetite. According to Mike, it was medical cannabis that helped Jake feel like himself.
Even after their son’s death, the Honigs have actively fought for easier access to cannabis to ease the pain and other symptoms experienced by patients.
The expanded medical cannabis program
Aside from expanding patients’ access to medical cannabis, the bill also:
- requires the issuance of additional cannabis dispensary permits,
- revises certain requirements for patients and for primary caregivers, as well as requirements for doctors to authorize patients to use the drug, and
- improves the application process and the ownership and operational requirements for medical cannabis clinics or alternative treatment centers.
Moreover, the measure extends the authorization period from 90 days to one year. Currently, physicians can only authorize qualified patients to receive up to 90 days’ worth of supply before the patients need to be certified again. In other words, they need to be re-certified every three months. With the new measure, health care practitioners are authorized to issue up to a one-year supply of medication. This, in turn, will help reduce the costs for patients, as well as the frequency by which they need to visit their physicians.
Furthermore, the monthly limit of cannabis that a qualified patient can dispense is increased from two ounces to three ounces. Right now, patients are limited to only two ounces of medical cannabis within a period of 30 days. The measure raises this limit to three ounces for 18 months. After that elapses, the maximum amount is going to be determined by regulation.
It will also make edible forms of cannabis available to adults this time. Under the original law, edibles were only allowed for minors. But under the new bill, edibles can now be dispensed to adult patients.
The bill also provides for the phase-out of the medical cannabis sales tax. Medical cannabis is currently subject to sales tax — unlike most forms of medicines, which are not. The new measure will phase out the sales tax for medical pot gradually over a three-year period. In 2020, sales tax will go down to 4 percent, in 2021, it will be 2 percent, and in 2022, it will be entirely eradicated.
The new law also provides for the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to assume responsibility over the medical cannabis program. This Commission will consist of five members that are appointed by the Governor, two of them upon the recommendation of the Senate President and the Speaker.
If you want to know more about the changes introduced by the new legislation, check out this link.