While patience may be wearing thin for some residents throughout the state who expected Murphy to legalize cannabis within 100 days, some lawmakers are indeed keeping busy with a focus on expansion of medical cannabis in NJ.

New Jersey State Senators Joe Vitale and Nicholas Scutari introduced a bill last week that would further expand the medical marijuana program in the state. The action is in response to Governor Murphy’s announcement of the expansion of the program in NJ allowing more qualifying conditions and slightly lessened registration fees and requirements on patients and physicians. Senator Scutari is also the primary sponsor of the leading legislation on legalization of cannabis in New Jersey, although it is the most prohibitive of the various bills for legalization that have been introduced (well, besides Ronald Rice’s decriminalization bill.)

Vitale’s bill would make several changes and new additions, including the following:

  • Raise the monthly allowed amount of medical marijuana from 2 ounces to 2.5 ounces in 2019 and three ounces in 2020;
  • Remove the limit on how much medical pot terminally ill patients and hospice patients can receive;
  • Remove the ban on edible medical pot to minors;
  • Permit multiple written instructions for patients authorizing up to a 180-day supply at one time, up from 90 days;
  • Allow patients to receive medical cannabis from any dispensary, known as Alternative Treatment Centers;
  • Permit two designated caregivers for patients, with the ability to petition the state for additional caregivers;
  • Remove the requirement for a psychiatric evaluation of minors prior to enrollment.

The Expansion Of Medical Cannabis Also Continues In the State Assembly

This week, Assemblywoman JoAnne Downey sponsored and introduced a joint resolution urging the DEA and the federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule I status.

     The federal Controlled Substances Act sets out five “schedules” of controlled substances, known as Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V.  A substance is placed in Schedule I if it has “high potential for abuse,” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and if there is “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”  Substances in Schedule I cannot legally be prescribed by a practitioner.

     Medical marijuana has been legalized in 30 states, including New Jersey, and in the District of Columbia, and recreational marijuana has been legalized in nine states and in the District of Columbia. Although policymakers in these states have found that the use of marijuana is appropriate and safe, and millions of residents of these states have legally used marijuana under state law, nonetheless marijuana is a Schedule I substance under federal law, along with heroin, LSD, mescaline, and other substances that are known to be dangerous and potentially lethal.

     The classification of marijuana in Schedule I means that citizens who legally use marijuana under their states’ laws are violating federal law. The classification of marijuana in Schedule I also means that scientists and researchers attempting to study marijuana are faced with limited access and limited supplies, making marijuana research difficult.

     By contrast with Schedule I, substances are placed in Schedules II, III, IV, and V if they have accepted medical uses, and such substances may be prescribed by physicians, although the substances have a potential for abuse.  Federal law provides a process by which the Drug Enforcement Administration (the DEA) may reclassify a substance from one schedule to another. Removing marijuana from Schedule I and reclassifying it into an appropriate schedule would reflect the medical uses and therapeutic effects of this substance.

Last month, Assemblywoman Downey introduced a bill to expand the medical program in New Jersey, specifically with a focus on minors.

NJ Assemblywoman, Annette Quijano, filed a bill to allow reciprocity for out-of-state medical cannabis patients. Quijano’s bill permits certain individuals from other states access to medical marijuana in accordance with NJ State law.

     Under the bill, qualifying medical marijuana patients or primary caregivers from other jurisdictions are permitted to access medical marijuana in this State and engage in any conduct related to medical marijuana that is authorized under New Jersey law, provided that the patient or primary caregiver possesses a valid medical marijuana certification from a jurisdiction that authorizes the medical use of marijuana and a valid driver’s license or other photographic identification issued by the other jurisdiction, and the patient or primary caregiver would otherwise qualify as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver pursuant to P.L.2009, c.307 (C.24:6I-1 et al.).

Quijano previously filed a bill to grant automatic expungements of criminal records for prior marijuana possession convictions.

Although cannabis is not fully legal in New Jersey yet, the medical program continues to expand and Governor Murphy continues to publicly voice support. Budget projections from the “marijuana tax” for fiscal year 2019 did not change and continues to maintain $80 million in revenue from cannabis.

All eyes are on the cannabis industry and the emerging NJ marketplace. Along these lines, last week Acreage Holdings announced its entry into the New Jersey cannabis space, the same firm John Boehner recently received criticism for joining after years of supporting continued marijuana prohibition.

What do you think about how cannabis legalization is evolving in New Jersey?  Comment below…

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