New Jersey to Expand Medical Marijuana Program

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TRENTON, NJ ? New Jersey has decided to expand the state's medical marijuana program, according to New Jersey.com. The decision comes after a panel, commissioned by Gov. Phil Murphy, met in Montclair on March 20 to discuss an expansion of the program. The panel is recommending that the state begin an immediate large-scale expansion of its cannabis program. 

The panel had proposals for the program which include less stringent requirements to participate in the medical marijuana program as well as the addition of more medical marijuana facilities. The New Jersey Department of Health is expected to release the proposed changes to the program this week.

Murphy requested the review in January and agreed with the changes, previously calling the program too contained. Murphy campaigned on marijuana legalization, and so far, his actions are true to his word.

Murphy believes that medical marijuana can help children, veterans, and terminally ill people find relief from their illnesses, saying at a press conference last January that it is time to treat them as patients instead of criminals.

The program proposals are expected to allow more debilitating conditions to the list of qualifying illnesses. The panel advised 43 conditions to be added last year, but they have yet to be included. Conditions such as anxiety, migraines, and intractable pain were recommended, which would give thousands of additional patients in the state access to the program. Qualifying conditions for the program currently include AIDS, ALS, cancer, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and terminal illnesses.

More Dispensaries Will Join Medical Marijuana Program

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The panel will recommend that the 6 existing medical marijuana companies operating in the state be permitted to open additional pot shops statewide. More companies will also be given licenses to join the medical marijuana program. New businesses will be able to cultivate or sell marijuana, or both. However, expanding businesses must continue to cultivate and sell marijuana, as they have already been doing in the program.

The panel also recommends eliminating the condition that requires a patient's physician to be registered with the program. Most doctors in the state are not registered with the medical marijuana program. Doctors say that they worry about the stigma from their other patients by registering for the medical marijuana program, and eliminating the requirement will give more patients access to the program.

Other recommendations could include information on whether medical marijuana delivery will be allowed in the state or whether doctors will be allowed to decide if their patient needs medical marijuana, as opposed to their patient's eligibility being predetermined according to their illness.

Dr. Kamal Kalsi from the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Paterson spoke at an event held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair. The event was to discuss marijuana reform. Kalsi said that is his emergency room, no one is there because of a marijuana overdose.

On the contrary, Kalsi believes that medicinal marijuana could be used to fight opioid addiction. He became an advocate after he witnessed how medical marijuana helped soldiers with addictions to pain pills when he served in the in the U.S. Army. Dr. Kalsi says that the research indicates that medical marijuana can treat opioid addiction.

Also speaking at the event was the policy counsel from the New Jersey ACLU, Dianna Houenou, and the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, Rev. Tim Jones.

Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on legalizing recreational marijuana. He wants the state to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, estimating that the state could generate $60 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales. He said in his budget address that he was committed to getting marijuana legislation passed this year.