NJ State Senator Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) has introduced two bills into the New Jersey State Senate focused on medical cannabis affordability.
“Affordability is always an issue for me,” he said.
Vitalie is Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee in the New Jersey Senate.
He noted health insurance is only permitted to cover medicine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“It’s not FDA approved,” Vitale said about medical cannabis.
Thus it cannot be covered by traditional health insurance due to federal restrictions. Therefore, his bills only pertain to state programs.
Vitale has long supported helping patients with medical cannabis. He noted he was a sponsor of the Jake Honig Act in 2019.
“I was the sponsor of the medical cannabis bill in the Senate at the time,” he noted. “We were kind of confounded with affordability.”
Vitale said he is concerned that the existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be hurt or focus on adult-use cannabis soon at the expense of patients. Thus, he wants to make medical cannabis more affordable.
Vitale is sponsoring S 313, “Allows costs of medical cannabis to be reimbursed by Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, PAAD, Senior Gold and VCCO.”
Under the bill, the cost of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products would be eligible for reimbursement through the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled program, the Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act of 1971.
A child with a catastrophic illness who is a registered patient and eligible for the program would receive financial assistance to assist with the cost of medical cannabis through their parent or legal guardian.
Senator Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) is also sponsoring S 313. There will be a hearing on that bill in Trenton on Thursday morning.
The other bill Vitale is sponsoring is S 309, “Requires workers’ compensation, PIP, and health insurance coverage for the medical use of cannabis under certain circumstances.” It would allow car insurance and worker’s compensation case payments to cover medical cannabis in special circumstances.
It would not be covered by employer health insurance.
Along with Vitale, Senate President and cannabis legalization sponsor Nick Scutari (D-Union) is sponsoring it.
“Hopefully, we’ll get it through,” he said.
Vitale noted that in the previous session of the legislature, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) sponsored A 313 and, along with Conaway, former Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) was a sponsor of A 309.
Burzichelli lost his bid for re-election with his district mate, former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), in a surprise upset last year.
Conaway is sponsoring both companion bills in the Assembly.
“The issue would be the cost to the state. The majority of the legislature has accepted cannabis is here to stay,” Vitale said.
He noted his colleagues need to commit to spending the money.
“We’re spending money, and there is not a revenue stream to support raising these problems,” he noted.
Homegrow and Medical Cannabis Affordability
While homegrow cannabis has been presented by advocates as a solution to the issue of medical cannabis affordability, Vitale said he has not decided whether to support it yet. He noted he is listening to advocates make their points.
“So I will wait and see,” he said.
Vitale is concerned a homegrow program would be abused, whereby those who are not medical cannabis patients would grow for recreational purposes. He is also concerned some would sell excess cannabis in the underground market.
Vitale believes it could mean fewer patients buying medical cannabis while existing dispensaries would be tempted to cater to adult-use consumers.
“There would have to be some kind of validation,” he said.
Scutari has also mentioned the need for an enforcement mechanism in a homegrow bill.
“It could happen,” Vitale said about a homegrow bill passing.
Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ (CMMNJ) Board Member Jo Anne Zito noted Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont charge medical cannabis patients a fee to home grow.
“I believe the only state that charges for home grow mechanism is Rhode Island (plant tag certificate),” she noted. “South Dakota requires a separate certificate for patients who plan to grow, but I don’t see a fee for that,” she noted.
Zito noted in California, possession of six plants or more is a misdemeanor with up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. In Connecticut, they will issue a written warning for more than six plants. On the second offense, it is a $500 fine, and on the third, it is a misdemeanor crime
NJ Senate Majority Whip Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) is pushing a medical cannabis homegrow bill while Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) is pushing an adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow bill. Both bills allow a registered patient to have less than 12 plants.