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Several Lawmakers Seek Expansion of NJ Medical Cannabis

Several lawmakers are focusing on an expansion of NJ medical cannabis and medical weed. But the patience of some waiting for legalization is decreasing for those who expected Murphy to legalize cannabis within 100 days.

New Jersey State Senators Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Nick Scutari (D-Union) introduced a bill last week. It would further expand NJ medical cannabis. The action is in response to Governor Murphy’s announcement of the expansion of NJ medical cannabis. He wants to allow more qualifying conditions and slightly cheaper registration fees and requirements for patients and physicians.

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

  • Raise the monthly allowed amount of medical marijuana 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 selling 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.

Scutari is also the primary sponsor of the leading legislation on the legalization of cannabis in New Jersey. But it is the most prohibitive of the NJ legalization bills that have been introduced besides Ron Rice’s decriminalization bill.

Medical Cannabis Expansion in the Assembly

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Downey (D-Monmouth) sponsored and introduced a joint resolution. It urged 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.

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

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 the fiscal year 2019 did not change and continue to maintain $80 million in revenue from cannabis.

Medical Weed Issues in the United States

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 30 states, including New Jersey and in the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana has been legalized in nine states and in the District of Columbia. Policymakers in these states have found that the use of medical weed is appropriate and safe. Millions of residents of these states have legally used marijuana under state law. Nonetheless, marijuana is a Schedule I substance under federal law. That’s 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. That makes marijuana research very difficult.

By contrast with Schedule I, substances are placed in Schedules II, III, IV, and V if they have accepted medical uses. Such substances may be prescribed by physicians, although the substances have a potential for abuse.  Federal law includes a process where the Drug Enforcement Administration (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.

Last week, Acreage Holdings announced its entry into the New Jersey cannabis space, the same firm former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner recently received criticism for joining after years of supporting marijuana prohibition.

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