State Senator Joe Vitale’s (D-Middlesex) bill S 313 to address medical cannabis costs passed the Health and Human Services Committee yesterday.
It had bipartisan support.
Vitale noted that “FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval is required to cover a particular therapy or treatment.”
Since the FDA has not approved medical cannabis, he explained that regular health insurance plans could not cover it.
“There are other avenues we will use,” he said.
Vitale noted the bill focuses on coverage provided by state programs for the neediest.
“My experience with medical marijuana dates back to Governor Florio… as it related to my late wife Cheryl,” said Jim Miller of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey (CMMNJ).
Jim Florio was the Governor of New Jersey in the early 90s.
Medical Cannabis Affordability Issues
“I haven’t been able to afford my medicine for several days,” he added.
“Affordability… originally was to come in the patient homegrow provisions… but they were omitted in an Assembly compromise,” Miller said.
He noted it was contained in the initial version of the medical cannabis bill introduced by Nick Scutari (D-Union). It passed the New Jersey Senate but was removed during the Assembly hearing. The bill was signed into law on the last day of former Governor Jon Corzine’s time in office in 2010.
“I hope that today can and will be the biggest step to affordability,” Miller said.
He noted medical cannabis is treated differently than other medicine. It’s like it’s more dangerous than opioids, from which one can die of an overdose, unlike cannabis.
Miller urged them to vote for the bill to end medical cannabis being a “second-class medicine.”
Fighting for Homegrow
He noted Senator Troy Singleton’s (D-Burlington) bill on medical cannabis homegrow was denied hearings in the legislature’s last session by leadership. Miller argued that would better address medical cannabis costs.
“130,000 patients in the MMP (Medical Marijuana Program) today, and with a benefit like this, I can see why this number is so small,” said Mike Brennan of CMMNJ. “The cost is… prohibitive. For many, they don’t even both to apply as with regulations time and time again it forces people into the black market. The regulations have never failed to help the black market.”
“I find very little compassion in the Compassionate Use Act,” he added regarding the medical cannabis law the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Corzine signed.
Brennan said he knows someone with liver cancer who cannot afford the medicine necessary to treat the condition.
“Thank you for your testimony and advocacy,” Vitale said in response.
“Insurance for medical marijuana will have profoundly therapeutic benefits in New Jersey,” said CMMNJ Executive Director Ken Wolski. “Insurance coverage will lower the cost of healthcare in the state.”
He argued it would reduce the need for hospitalizations and emergency care.
Big Pharma Testifies Against Addressing Medical Cannabis Costs
The lobbyist Mark Bolton of Greenwich Bio Sciences, maker of the CBD-derived Epidiolex, spoke terribly about the nature of medical cannabis in favor of his corporation’s products. He was completely opposed to the idea of reimbursement for medical cannabis.
“Mandating coverage for cannabis raises challenges for the state,” Bolton claimed, noting there are limited funds for such a program.
He made the claim it would displace existing patients benefiting from those programs.
Bolton severely criticized every aspect of medical cannabis in favor of his corporation’s products. He noted doctors do not know a lot about medical cannabis, and scientists know little about cannabis.
“I do think there are some risks,” said State Senator Vin Gopal, who took up chairing the meeting. “I think my homegrow resolution would resolve a lot of this. Do other states have mandated reimbursement?”
While Singleton has introduced a bill that only allows patients to grow a limited number of plants to address medical cannabis costs, Gopal’s bill allows for both adult-use and medical cannabis homegrow of a limited number of plants.
Bolton said no.
“What are some of the other alternatives?” Gopal asked.
Bolton said some states have discounts programs from a fee from licensed cannabis dispensaries to reimburse licensed medical cannabis dispensaries for the discounts. He said fees could be collected from a number of ways to keep medical cannabis at the same price while making it more affordable for patients.
“Got it, thanks,” Gopal said.