Marijuana — specifically, medical marijuana — is the focus of Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest executive order, as the new governor on Tuesday called for the state Department of Health and Board of Medical Examiners to review New Jersey’s current program.
The order was written with an eye to expanding access for patients who could benefit from cannabis products, under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act of 2010. It does not touch on recreational or other uses of the drug.
“We need to treat our residents with compassion,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “We cannot turn a deaf ear to our veterans, the families of children facing terminal illness or to any of the other countless New Jerseyans who only wish to be treated like people, and not criminals. And, doctors deserve the ability to provide their patients with access to medical marijuana free of stigmatization.”
The order, Murphy’s sixth since taking office a week ago, calls for the DOH and BME to conduct a review of the program within the next 60 days, including:
- Evaluating current roles on dispensaries and growing facilities;
- Evaluating the licensing process for dispensaries;
- Evaluating conditions placed on physicians who participate it the program;
- Analyzing medical conditions for which marijuana may be allowed as treatment;
- Assessing methods by which patients can obtain medical marijuana, and in what forms.
The order said recommendations for either additional rules or the elimination of existing ones should be submitted along with the findings.
“Many aspects of New Jersey’s medical marijuana program are written in statute,” Murphy said. “But our law is 8 years old. Since it took effect, significant medical research has been conducted. Our goal is to modernize the program in New Jersey, bring it up to current standards and put patients first.”
A news release from the Governor’s Office said about 15,000 state residents are able to utilize New Jersey’s program through only five authorized dispensaries, contrasting that with other states, where hundreds of thousands of people can utilize such programs.
The release criticized former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for putting “administrative barriers” in place that it said prevent residents who might have need from using the program.
Murphy said he remains committed to passing comprehensive marijuana reform, which was one of his campaign promises.
New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy, an advocacy group opposing the legalization of recreational cannabis, supported the notion of a review.
“It is appropriate for Gov. Murphy to study the medical marijuana system in New Jersey to ensure public health and safety are being served,” NJ-RAMP spokesperson Jeanette Hoffman said in a statement. “We hope that the Department of Health consults experts from public health and the addiction field, including medical doctors and prevention experts. We also expect the marijuana industry not to exert influence here, any more than the tobacco industry should influence DOH tobacco regulations.
“However, when it comes to legalizing widespread recreational marijuana, we urge Gov. Murphy to look at other states and listen to legislators in his own party who have serious concerns.”